Baird, Gavin Gibson

Letter
Date:
December 3, 1929
To:
Angereau
From:
Gavin Gibson Baird
December 3, 1929

Dear Angereau,

It would be impossible for me to go into detail on all the "shows" we were on. Every night that it was possible to fly we flew, and dropped bombs and used our machine gun on any spot where we thought German soldiers might be located. I have already mentioned bombing the city of Douai, and a few days after we had bombed it on one occasion we received a communication from Wing Headquarters that one of our machines had been successful in hitting a German Moving Picture show, causing in the neighborhood of 200 casualties. Of course Fritzy used to do everything he possibly could to stop us coming over, and even after we were over used to make us as uncomfortable as possible so that we would divert from our objective. If we were down low enough he used machine guns on us, and if we were up higher he used anti-aircraft in conjunction with searchlights and "flaming onions". All summer long these flaming onions were a source of mystery to us. We could not understand how they were fired, but we were under the impression that they were connected in some way and that his idea was to throw the up in the air so that a machine would get entangled in them. One could plainly see that they were burning phosphorus and if they ever came in contact with your machine you would be set on fire for a certainty. They used to come up one after the other and after the last one was fired they all seemed to float up in unison just so far behind each other and of course this gave us the impression that they were connected in some way. As a matter of fact, we found out after the war was over that they were not connected, but that they were fired from a gun very similar to a machine gun. They were used too, by the Germans to help their own machines, as a battery firing these flaming onions might be located at a certain point and every time they fired a bunch there would be, say nine, in it. That would give positive identification to the German aviator as to his exact location and he would be able to take a compass bearing from there to his objective on our side of the line. We did not use flaming onions, but had lighthouses from one end of the line to the other. These lighthouses were visible at night for quite a distance and used to flash different letters in the Morse code. For instance, the lighthouse immediately behind the City of Arras used to flash the letter "S" - that us, three dots. Then we had other ones up and down the line that used to flash different letters. Of course you were not supposed to carry any information in your machine that would, in the event or your being shot down, enable the Germans to locate these lighthouses as they would be able to uses them in assisting them in finding objectives on our side of the line. We memorized all the lighthouse locations and knew the exact bearing from any one of the, to our own aerodrome; also how many minutes under ordinary flying conditions it would take us to reach the aerodrome from the various lighthouses. This was particularly necessary be reason of our own aerodrome being entirely in the dark at night. It would not do to advertise the location of your night flying aerodrome to a German bomber that might be in the vicinity. In going home from any of our shows we used to fly the required length of time, and sometimes we would find that our dummy aerodrome was all lit up. This dummy aerodrome was about a mile or so from our own aerodrome, and when we got over the dummy we used to flash the signal for the for the night and if everything was clear the fellows on the ground would signal you to land. Our landing apparatus was not so up to date as they have them now. We had no flood lights, but we did have a small searchlight that was run from a little portable wagon that was quite sufficient for our needs. Then again, on many occasions we did not even use the searchlight, but just used two white electric lights run off a small storage battery, and these would be about 60 candle power, I guess. Then a third red light was located so that it would form the apex of a triangle. We landed between the two white lights towards the red, and of course these lights were moved around with the change of the wind so that you were always landing into the wind.

Shortly after we were in France we bombed an aerodrome that was quite near the coast and almost on the border of Holland. This was one of our longest trips but some of us evidently go there because we received a communication a short time afterwards that we had done considerable damage to the aerodrome and that the bomb holes we had made had been the cause of several of the German machines crashing. The reason that we bombed this particular aerodrome was on account of them using it as a base from which to bomb England. We bombed them while they were away bombing England, so that when they came back they had the pleasure of landing in some of the bomb holes we had made. It was not always possible to get definite information, but the espionage system used by the British Army was second to none. They usually knew what was going to happen and also what had happened; that is, what damage we had been able to do, and so on.

Many nights, however, were so "dud" - and that means bad, that we were unable to fly, and on those nights we usually had a good time. There was a Canadian Casualty Clearing Station quite close by, and the doctors used to come up and visit us on such nights. They were a wild bunch and some of the times they had were such that I would not dare tell about them. However, you can understand that men living under a strain such as all of us were, were only too glad to have a little relaxation, and any fun we had was entirely innocent. I remember one night we had a three-cornered fight. That is, the fellows in "A" Flight we fighting the boys in "C" Flight, and the boys from "B" Flight were into both of us. One of our fellows was, in our opinion, not much good, and he did not come down to help us out with the result that after the fight was over - and of course, it was all only in fun anyway - several of us went to his hut and pulled him out of bed and took him down to the mess and gave him a shampoo of Worcester Sauce. Our opinion of this particular observer was subsequently borne out by the Major asking us on the Q.T. one day if we would hold a mock Court Martial on him. This procedure has been frequently resorted to in the British Army in an endeavor to make a certain officer see the error of his ways, and in some cases it has had the effect of straightening a fellow up and making him into a real man. However, I do not know whether our mock trial had any affect on this fellow or not, but while it lasted it was certainly funny.

All during the summertime we had from one hundred to two hundred Chinamen working on our aerodrome. These fellows could not speak English at all, and it was necessary to have a Sergeant Interpreter. There was one great big Chinaman who seemed to take a fancy to men and he would come around my hut when I was there, and on one occasion pulled out an enormous knife and made a motion with it through the air and said "Chinese" - and something that sounded like yur-r-r-up - and then looked at me and said "English", and if course I immediately caught on to what he meant, and said "knife". Then he pointed to the sandbag along my hut and gave me to understand it was not in very good condition, so I motioned him to fix it up.

They were certainly a very amusing bunch and they would have given anything to possess a Christy hat like Charlie Chaplin wears in the pictures. As a matter of fact, it wasn't anything out of the ordinary to see a bunch of them walking along the road - and they hadn't any discipline or marching ability - and some them with Christy hats on, but the majority of them with women's hats on. Christy hats were at a premium, and the fellow that owned one of them had to watch it very carefully; otherwise he would not have it very long with that bunch around. We were very careful in not allowing them into our huts because they were not very clean, and on a nice summer day you would see them out in the morning, or just in the lunch hour, with their shirts off, removing the visitors.

They would frequently have a scrap between them and you would see two of them at first throw off their hats on the ground and they would make a few passes at one another, but not hit each other. They would then tear off their tunics, or coat, and then throw one on the ground, then they would go at one another again, for a short time, and then take off their shirts. They used to have two or three towels wrapped around their body, and these would come off, so that before they were finished they would be mauling around with only their trousers on.

One of these Chinese boys had worked in an English Garage in Shanghai, and he knew quite a lot about motors, with the result that we moved him off the field force, which was just an ordinary laborer's job into our own workshop and he assisted for the balance of the summer in working one the aeroplane engines - that is, taking them apart and cleaning them, and so on. The more technical jobs, of course, were handled by our own fellows.

Sincerely yours,

Gavin
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