Baird, Gavin Gibson

Letter
Date:
December 11, 1929
To:
Angereau
From:
Gavin Gibson Baird
December 11, 1929

Dear Angereau,
From time to time as I have been writing these various letters to you I have refreshed my memory from a diary that I kept of the daily happenings when I was over seas. One had to be careful, however, when writing down anything that might be of value to the enemy if, by any chance, it came into their possession. Consequently the information in the diary is very much abbreviated and it is only by the connection of ideas that I am able to elaborate on certain days' happenings.

The aerodrome that we were at the longest was near a small town called Fiefs, and the larger town nearby was called Sans le Pernes. All the roads in France, generally speaking, are good. The main highways are especially fine and in Canada and the United States one does not see roads so beautifully made as the main roads are over there. Traffic always keeps to the right in France and, as you know, to the left in England. Our drivers found it a little hard to get used to the right-hand traffic, especially as the English cars are made for left-hand traffic. One of the largest cities in the section of France that we were operating in was called St.Omer. We frequently used to go there for dinner on nights that it was impossibly to fly, and there was one particularly fine restaurant that we used to patronize. This was run by two Frenchwomen, and the service and the food was everything that one could desire. It is said that the Prince of Wales used to frequently go to this restaurant, although we never had the luck to meet him there. Speaking about the Prince, an amusing incident is supposed to have happened between the Prince and a Flying Corps Officer while the Prince was in France, and of course you know that he was in France at different times for quite lengthy periods. The incident is supposed to take place on a road. The Flying Corps Officer is going along the road in one of the Squadron Cars and sees another officer is going difficulties with a motorcycle. He pulls up and asks the fellow with the motorcycle if there is anything he can do for him. Between the two of them and with the assistance of the driver of the car, they eventually get the motorcycle working again and the Flying Corps Officer said to the fellow on the motorcycle that he would like to know his name in case they ever met again. The young man said that he was the Prince of Wales, and he asked the Flying Corps Officer what his name was. He said, "I am the King, your father". They both started to laugh, and so far as the Flying Corps Officer was concerned, the incident was closed. However, when he got back to his Squadron that evening, the Major met him and told him that he had better dress up for dinner because the Prince of Wales was coming. He dressed and when he got down to the mess the first person he saw was the young man that he had helped with the motorcycle, and of course as soon as he saw him he waved his hand and said, "Hello dad", and of course it was the Prince all along- at least so goes the story.

One night we had just returned from a show and were having some refreshment in the mess when we heard a machine coming over. All our lights were on, of course, and we were a good target for any enemy aeroplanes. However, after listening for a moment we decided that it was a Handley-Page, one of our large twin-engine bombers. All our calculations were rather rudely upset by him dropping an enormous bomb just past the aerodrome. Of course our lights were put immediately, and that was all that happened. Shortly after that the phone in the Orderly room rang, and it was the Major from a Handley-Page Squadron located quite nearby. He asked if the bomb that had been dropped had done any damage. He was assured that it had no except to put the wind up. He apologized profusely and said that the pilot coming back was under the impression that he had dropped all his bombs over the line, and accidentally pulled one of the bomb releases with the result that the last remaining bomb had dropped. Fortunately, however, it did no damage. You can see that we were right in our estimate as to the type of machine that went over. One became quite expert in determining the make of machine, even although it could not be seen. The twin-engine bombers that the Runs used had a decided pulsation to their motor. As a matter of fact, the boys in the trenches used to call them "wong wongs". The twin-engine machines that we used were almost entirely equipped with Rolls Royce motors which were at that time, the ultimate in aeroplane engines. They were just as fine in the air as the engines Royce engines to such a degree that from the ground they sounded like one engine. Theses Handley-Page machines were the largest machines that we were flying, and I think the wing span was around 127 feet. They could carry considerably more than a ton of bombs, which would be made up possibly of twenty 112 pound bombs. In addition to that, they would have three men- a pilot, observer and gunner. These machines were not restricted to carrying bombs of any particular size, but during the latter part of the war were carrying individual bombs that weighed one thousand pounds. These bombs had to be carried out from the ammunition dump to the machine with small tractors, something like a Fordson, and lifted on to the bomb rack by means of a block and tackle. When these bombs were first used the pilots were instructed not to drop them from a height less than 6000feet, on account of the tremendous concussion. However, this proved to be an unnecessary precaution, and the boys used to frequently drop them from much lower heights than that. One cannot imagine the damage that one of these bombs could do, nor can one imagine the concussion that is caused when they explode. An ordinary 112 pound bomb is tremendous, but multiply that by ten and one has some idea of what one of the large bombs could do. On our machines we never carried a bomb larger than the 230 pounder. Our load was usually mixed. We would possibly have 8- 30lb. bombs; 2-112 lb. bombs and 1- 250lb. In addition to that, of course, we carried about a thousand rounds of ammunition, 60 gallons of gasoline, and the pilot and observer. On some of the warm summer nights we used to have considerable difficulty in getting any great height, as the strain that the engine was under in lifting the machine with so much dead weight used to cause the motor to heat.

We were detailed one night to bomb the rail head at Seclin. This was a very hot spot, and on account of its importance to the German army was very well guarded against any attack by searchlights, anti-air-craft, and machine guns. There was a town called Carvin, which was very close to Seclin, and in the centre of the town was a large square which could be easily identified at night. When we used to attack Seclin we used to make Carvin our objective, and in that way escaped most of the hate on our outward trip. Then from Carvin to Seclin we used to follow the main road and get rid of our bombs on the siding and so on, almost before he knew that he was being attacked. On this particular night that I am going to mention we picked up Carvin at a height of about 2000 feet, and I had previously told my observer that I was going to bomb from a height no greater than four of five hundred feet. At Carvin I shut down my motor so that she was just ticking over. From Carvin to Seclin I glided without any assistance from the engine until I had come down to approximately 500 feet and was in perfect position over the sidings and freight yards at Seclin. At the signal from my observer I released all my bombs and as each bomb landed you could hear the explosion. I was now down to such a low altitude that it was necessary for me to put on my engine, and as soon as I did, I was blinded with about seven or eight searchlights. For the next two or three minutes I had the hottest time that I ever had on any bombing trip. I seemed to be completely surrounded with machine guns, and as you possibly know every third or fourth bullet was what is known as a tracer. The end of the lead bullet is hollowed out and magnesium is forced in the hole. As soon as the bullet leaves the gun, the magnesium starts to burn and one can trace the progress of the bullet through the air. These little spits of fire seemed to be coming up all around us, and the surprising part of it was that they did not seem to be moving very fast. One had the idea that you could put your hand out and stop one. The position that I was in was that I was entirely surrounded with a barrage. This was not aimed particularly at the machine, but aimed in front of me so that whichever way I turned I seemed to be facing one of these barrages. All the time I was in the searchlights and was, on that account, visible to all the gunners on the ground. I yelled to Joe, my observer, through the phone, to try to put out some of the searchlights with his machine gun. He was standing right out in front, leaning over the edge which his machine gun, and did everything he possibly could. As a matter of fact, one or two of them did go out, but as soon as he stopped firing they would come on again. By this time I was getting desperate. The circle that I was flying around in was getting smaller every minute and I knew that I had to get out quickly or I would never get out at all. I decided that as a last resort I would throw my machine into a vertical dive and come down so quickly that the searchlights could not follow me. This I did, with the result that I threw Joe backwards against the partition between his seat and mine and held him there by the pressure of around two hundred and some odd miles an hour. This was only for a few seconds; as a matter of fact, things happen so quickly that you cannot form any estimate of the time. However, it only seemed a moment before I was entirely clear of the searchlights, but too close to the ground to be comfortable. I straightened her out and by that time I estimated that I was not any more than 100 feet from the ground. I managed to get away all right but I had in my dive scared the life out of Joe. As he told me afterwards, he had imagined that one of the machine gun bullets had hit me and that I had fallen forward on the joy stick, thus throwing her into the dive. All the time he was doing his best to get back to me, but the pressure of the wind, that I have already mentioned, held him immovable. However, that did not end our experiences for that night. It seemed as though we had gone through we had gone through enough for one trip, and everything went fine until we reached our line. I had been, of course, traveling without lights as we never used to put these on until we were well within our own territory, and then only if there were no searchlights showing, which would indicate the presence of Huns. I was challenged by one of our anti-aircraft batteries located at a point called St. Venant, and Joe started to look frantically for a cartridge containing the colors of the night. This cartridge he proposed to fire from his Very's pistol, but in consternation he turned to me and said that he did not have one with the particular color of the night. I said, "We are liable to have a hot time here unless you do something quick". Just about that time our battery opened up on us, and his "Archie" was too close to be comfortable. I turned on my lights and signaled the color for the night, but this did not stop him for a bit. However, anti-aircraft did not worry me so much as machine gun when I was flying low, so after a little manoevering I managed to leave him behind and get back to the aerodrome without further excitement.

Sincerely yours,
Gavin

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