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Date: March 30th 1916
Dear Ones All

Hotel Cecil
30 March 1916.

Dear Ones All,

Ever so many newspapers have arrived from home during the past week, all of which have been most welcome, also good letters from May and from those two dear kids of hers. If Baby John Ross Jr. doesn’t write next week I shall be most provoked. Fancy those youngsters being able to compose and write such interesting letters! Norman’s letter might well be considered a creditable effort for a person of twice his age, and Margaret’s was just as wonderful to me considering what a tiny little tot she is.

I also received a lovely letter from Ruth this week, but none from any of the other members of the family.

On Sunday morning at breakfast I looked up from my newspaper to find George Martyn wig-wagging madly at me from a near-by table. He was with Major Fletcher (of Paisley) of the 34th Canadians, and the three of us joined forces during breakfast. Unfortunately I could see very little of him, for Sunday is the same as any other day with us and I had to hurry along to my work. However, it was good to see him and hear a little "home talk."

Neil van Nostrand looked me up on Sunday evening and we had an hour or two together. I felt that the chances were a little bit less than even that I should ever see him again as he was leaving for France next day and now-a-days the R.F.C. pilots don’t get leave very often. Now that I am in a nice safe "ground" job-(ugh! It makes me mad to think of it!)- I feel that I needn’t try to keep the truth from you any longer with regard to the sort of jobs the pilots in France have. Their average life is about two months in active service- about 200 hours flying- since Fokkers became fashionable. Now I’ll tell you about Neil. I wish you could have heard him tell his own story sitting there beside me dressed in a blue serge suit, smoking a cigarette and looking just the same dear old Neil that I have seen in his own mother’s sitting room in Toronto many a time, and all the time talking almost in a whisper for fear that someone might hear what he was saying and think that he was blowing his own horn a little too much. He was flying a . . . . well, never mind the name of the machine for the censor would object I know- but anyway it was a slow old bus and familiarly known as "Fokker fodder" in the Corps. It is a good machine of its kind though and quite safe when accompanied by two or three others. Five of them went out to do this particular reconnaissance. Everything went well until they had finished their job and started for home, although the "Archies" were very bad throughout and they had to dodge them continually. Then a shell came along and put a hole through the oil pump pf his engine and carried away one of his cylinders . One generally figures with most machines on being able to glide one mile with a fall of 1000 feet with a dead engine. Neil’s height however was only 8000 feet and he was 10 miles from the British lines, so things looked pretty bad, and to make it worse the other machines were now away ahead of him and two Fokkers shot up from the German lines to cut him off, as they always do in their own particular little jackal-like way. "They went around and around me like humming-birds" he said "peppering away for all they were worth with their machine guns" By some miracle his old. engine kept turning around at about half its normal speed in spite of the fact that one cylinder was gone, another cylinder had a toppet rod shot away, and of course, it was almost white hot with a hole through its crank-case and the oil all gone. He said that his observer blazed away with one machine gun until it jammed, and then turned around to use the other. While he was trying to adjust that one, a bullet caught him between the shoulder blades and he subsided into a little ball in the bottom of the nacelle. Not I want you to picture the nerve and the skill of that boy, all alone in a big clumsy machine, dodging right and left, up and down, knowing that if he tried to climb with his laboring engine he would tail-dive, and that every time he banked steeply on a sharp turn he would lose height that he could never regain, and every foot nearer the ground brought him closer to the waiting "Archies" and the Hun rifle fire below, with bullets rapidly reducing his planes and framework to bits and expecting every second to be hit himself! Finally he shoved his nose vertically downwards and got into one of those nose-dives which are usually the terror of all pilots, knowing that it was his only chance of shaking off the Fokkers and after a sheer fall of 2000 feet he managed to accumulate enough speed to gradually flatten out and slowing drift over the British lines at a height of less than a thousand feet, much to the delight of the Huns in the trenches who put a few hundred bullets in chase of him as he glided by. There wasn’t a square foot of untouched fabric in the whole machine, half his rudder was shot away, eight shrapnel holes through his propellor, both guns knocked out of business, his observer killed, and his engine a jumble of twisted steel- and yet he didn’t get a scratch. He told me he felt “a bit dazed” when he stepped out of the machine. Funny, isn’t it! His Squadron Commander hurried him off to England at once for a week’s rest. He received a letter of appreciation from the General in command of the R.F.C. in the field, and yet he doesn’t seem to think that he has done anything out of the ordinary, and spoke about it all in a most disparaging way. But I have heard all about it through other channels, and it makes me feel mighty proud to say that he is a friend of mine.

And now to return to my own exciting work, which includes the dangerous pastime of dodging taxicabs in Piccadilly every day, my job includes one important thing and several other less important things, and it makes up in close, exacting work what it lacks in the way of excitement, and generally manages to keep me going hammer and tongs from 9 a. m. till 8 p. m. with one hour off for lunch. No, Dear People, they are not all "soft" jobs that they have at the War Office. The "important thing" is the keeping track of all the aeroplanes in England, their allotment to Wings and thence to Squadrons, their delivery to same, the "writing off" of the wrecked ones &c. However, I’ll tell you more about it next time- or perhaps they may fire me before then and then it won’t interest you anyway. Sorry I have dragged this out so long.

With much love to you all and just longing to see you.
Yours as always,

Original Scans

Original Scans