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Page 1 of Henry’s letter
[No. 2 Aircraft Depot, Candas]
British Expeditionary Force, France
Friday, April 27th, 1917
This is it ! My last letter before going to my new squadron. I’m in the Pool at the Depot, I arrived from St Omer yesterday after a rough trip across the Channel in which I was the only pilot aboard who didn’t get sick. I rode down with several other chaps from 40 Training Squadron [at Portmeadow], in one of the ubiquitous Crossleys. I got the privilege of sitting in the other front seat instead of jouncing about inside. I’ve been here for less than thirty-six hours now, but I’ve already got assigned to  Squadron somewhere in the Arras sector. (We’re not allowed to give the exact locations of our aerodromes, the Huns may be reading our mail.) Now I’m just awaiting transport.
Things are sure to be very lively there, we’re told that that’s where the Huns shot down 75 [Allied] planes in less than a week earlier this month, killing 86 of the 105 flyers in those planes. It worries us not a little, as we’ll be flying Nieuport 17s against the new German Albatros D-IIIs. We’ve most of us had less than 20 hours’ flying time, perhaps 10 or 12 of it solo, and the men we’ll go against are the cream of the German crop. I wish I’d been assigned to 56 Squadron, with Albert Ball. I’d really like to be his wingman, I’d feel snug as a bug in a rug. And they have the new S.E. 5s which are much better than 17s. I think in an S.E. I could almost give an Albatros a run for his money. In any case, we’re all eager to have a go at the Hun, it’s partly that we want to strike a blow for King and Country and put the German blighters in their proper place, but I must admit that there is a bit of the adventurer in it. And you may rest assured that we’ll do our level best to arrange our meetings where we’ll be on more or less even footing.
It hasn’t all been without excitement here, though. Just as we were arriving, a flight of Fees came over (that’s F.E. 2bs those horrible antiquated two-seater pushers that the Huns are shooting down like pigeons), and one of the pilots decided to pull an Immelmann turn, that’s a fancy manoeuvre, showing off for us newcomers I suppose. He ought to have known that you can’t do things like that in one of those droopy buses but he tried it anyway, and he lost control and span it in. We were all called on to pick up the pieces, he was napoo of course, and so was his observer, but at least it was quick, they didn’t come down a flamer. That’s what we all dread most, you know, getting set afire 10,000 feet in the air and burning all the way down. I don’t know whether I’d have the courage to blow my own brains out with my revolver. One of the older pilots (all of 26 !) remarked that it was probably just as well that the fellow had killed himself, if he’d been called on the carpet the dressing-down would have been infinitely worse. Some people’s sense of humour evidently becomes rather macabre under the strain of being at the front !
Seeing the bits of that Fee scattered across the grass reminded me terribly of those days you and I spent at Kinsale after the Lusitania was sunk, watching the little bits of flotsam and jetsam washing ashore. I’m writing this letter with the pen I bought from the salvage then, for sixpence it’s been quite the bargain. Anyway, the crash pretty well knocked the stuffing out of most of us, and we all spent the evening in a great endless booze-up. I awoke this morning with the worst hangover I can remember ever having had, I suppose it’s this rotten bilge we drink.
The party was good, the drunkenness notwithstanding, there were no dust-ups, someone turned up a concertina and there is a piano, and the singing was really quite pleasant. I must tell you, though, that the pilots over here sing the most appalling ditties. Here’s a sample of one that we sang last night:
Two German officers crossed the Rhine, skiboo, skiboo.
To love the women and taste the wine, skiboo, skiboo.
Oh, landlord, you’ve a daughter fair,
With lily-white t--- and golden hair.
Skiboo, skiboo, skiboolby boo, skidam, dam, dam.
It goes on for lots of verses. No one seems to know what “skiboo” means, but it makes a rousing song, so there it is. We also sang nicer songs, such as “When this ruddy war is over, Oh how happy we shall be” and ”God save the King” (a dozen times at least, each more maudlin than the one before as the evening progressed !).
One of the other chaps assigned to my new squadron has just come to tell me that a ride has been made available to those of us who are going that way, it’s another Crossley tender no doubt, and that we must go now or find our own way later. Keep only the best thoughts for me, my dear, and when I’m given leave I shall come back to Ireland to marry you and carry you home to the family farm [in Hampshire]. I don’t care that it’s not proper to marry an Irish girl, I’m so madly in love with you I still can’t understand why I was so quick to jump at the chance to train as a Scout pilot.