THE CAMELS ARE COMING
First Published on 7th September 1932 - 259 pages
The first three editions had 259 pages and cost 7 shillings and 6 pence. Later editions only had 220 pages (but had a colour frontispiece) and cost 3 shillings and 6 pence.
This contains seventeen short stories and before each there is an illustration drawn by W.E. Johns. As this is such a rare book I will give a fairly full summary. The stories are:-
FORWARD (pages 7 to 15) (a short essay by W. E. Johns)
THE WHITE FOKKER (pages 17 to 31)
The first ever Biggles story introduces Biggles in the following way, "a slight, fair haired, good looking lad still in his 'teens, but an acting Flight-Commander". He has "deep-set hazel eyes" which hold a "glint of yellow fire". His hands are "small and delicate as a girl's". The story also introduces us to Major Mullen, the C.O. of Biggles' Squadron and to MacLaren and Mahoney, two other Flight-Commanders. The Fokker D.VII of the title shoots down Norman when he is about to land. Various traps are set to get the Fokker and eventually Biggles shoots it down. This is the first "kill" we read about for Biggles although we are told in the story earlier that he has killed "six men during the past month - or was it a year? - he had forgotten".
(Click to enlarge)
(This story was originally first published in the April 1932 edition of Popular Flying Magazine – click here for more details)
This story was later republished as "Biggles and the White Fokker" in issue number 257 of "The Modern Boy" dated 7th January 1933
THE PACKET (pages 33 to 47)
In the second ever story, Biggles, now promoted to Captain, meets Colonel (later to be Air Commodore) Raymond for the first time. Raymond asks Biggles to recover a secret packet of plans hidden by a spy in a rabbit hole in a field inside enemy territory. Only a pilot of Biggles' skill would be able to land in and take off from the small field. Two pilots have already died trying. Needless to say, Biggles recovers the plans, with a little bit of help from MacLaren and Mahoney.
(This story was originally first published in the May 1932 edition of Popular Flying Magazine – click here for more details)
This story was later republished as "Peril Over the Line" in issue number 258 of "The Modern Boy" dated 14th January 1933
J-9982 (pages 49 to 61)
A German pilot is using a captured Sopworth Camel to kill unsuspecting British pilots. The story title refers to the number of the plane. Biggles, MacLaren and Mahoney hunt for the devious plane and eventually Biggles finds it and shoots it down. Biggles also shoots down a Hanoverana earlier on in this story and a Fokker just after he has got the rogue Camel.
(This story was originally first published in the June 1932 edition of Popular Flying Magazine – click here for more details)
This story was later republished as "Fighting Mad" in issue number 259 of "The Modern Boy" dated 21st January 1933
THE BALLOONATICS (pages 63 to 79)
Air Commodore Raymond is the first to get 12 bottles of pre-war whisky. However he offers it to both Biggles and Captain Wilkinson of 287 squadron depending on the success of their attacks on an observation balloon at Duneville. This is the first story to feature 'Wilks' of 287 squadron. This is also the first story to name Biggles' squadron as 266. Biggles wins all 12 bottles of whisky by actually capturing the German balloon. During the attempts he also shoots down a Fokker Triplane. In later, 1950's reprints such as Biggles of the Special Air Police, this story has the men risking their lives for bottles of lemonade (!) as the stories were changed for a younger audience, rather than the adult audience for which they were originally written. All references to swearing were removed or changed, as were references to drinking, from all of the stories that were republished. The changes to this particular story were the most extreme.
(This story was originally first published in the July 1932 edition of Popular Flying Magazine – click here for more details)
This story was later republished as "The Duneville Sausage" in issue number 260 of "The Modern Boy" dated 28th January 1933
THE BLUE DEVIL (pages 81 to 89)
An all blue German Albatross has built up a deadly reputation with a clever manoeuvre. The blue Albatross can turn in an instant, almost pivoting on its wing tip and shoot the plane that is on its tail. Biggles eventually fights the deadly German and foils the manoeuvre by doing the unexpected. When the plane turns on him, he tries to ram it rather than get out of the way and by taking the German by surprise, he is able to shoot him down.
(This story was originally first published in the August 1932 edition of Popular Flying Magazine – click here for more details)
This story was later republished as "The Blue Demon" in issue number 261 of "The Modern Boy" dated 4th February 1933
CAMOUFLAGE (pages 91 to 97)
The Germans have a cleverly disguised gun. It is disguised as a church, including a graveyard and ivy on the walls. Biggles' suspicions are first raised when he sees the church in a location it has never been in. Everybody denies there is a church there and when he goes back to check, it has gone. Biggles then hunts relentlessly for the church and gives the new co-ordinates to the artillery who pound it out of existence.
This story was later republished as "The Mystery Gun" in issue number 262 of "The Modern Boy" dated 11th February 1933
THE CARRIER (pages 99 to 109)
Biggles' propeller kills a carrier pigeon but Biggles finds a message on the pigeon's leg. Passing the message straight to Raymond at Intelligence, Biggles is informed that his M.C. (Military Cross) has come through. Of more concern to Biggles though, is the fact that the message, when decoded, turns out to be from a British spy. The spy is trapped in a German field and is being hunted down by dogs. Intelligence decide he will have to be left to his fate. Biggles is having none of that and sets off to rescue him, only to be brought down by 'archie' and crash in the German trenches! Luckily they have just been taken by the Royal Scots.
This story was later republished as "Man Hunt in the Air" in issue number 263 of "The Modern Boy" dated 18th February 1933
SPADS AND SPANDAUS (pages 111 to 122)
After Biggles meets some over-confident American pilots, he suggests that 266 and 287 Squadron join together to offer some protection for the Americans when they fly over the lines the following day. This is organised and results in a major air battle with the Germans. Biggles shoots down an Albatross before his guns jam. It is interesting to note that at the beginning of the story Wilkinson tells the Americans "his name's Bigglesworth, officially, he's shot down twelve Huns and five balloons, but to my certain knowledge he's got several more".
This story was later republished as "The Flying Circus" in issue number 264 of "The Modern Boy" dated 25th February 1933
THE ZONE CALL (pages 125 to 138)
Biggles forces an unarmed Pfalz pilot to land and captures him. The man later gives information whilst drunk to Air Intelligence, that leads them to organise a raid on a new German Airfield. Biggles isn't so easily fooled and finds a torn part of a secret order in the German's plane. Biggles then searches in the opposite direction to the information given and finds the German Army massing soldiers in a wood. He uses a helpful R.E. 8 pilot and observer to send out a "zone call". This is a concentrated fire by all British artillery in the area on one spot (and costs in the region of £10,000 a minute in shells!). The wood is pounded and the German troops are forced to withdraw so this foils the potential German attack.
This story was later republished as "Secret Orders" in issue number 265 of "The Modern Boy" dated 4th March 1933
THE DECOY (pages 141 to 153)
Batson, from Biggles' flight, is killed in a trap when he goes down to attack a lone German Rumpler. The trap is that a number of German Albatross aircraft are waiting high above and fall on the victim as he approaches the Rumpler. Biggles takes over Batson's plane and goes all out to get the plane responsible. It takes a while for him to find it. In the meantime, we are told "he fought many battles and, although he hardly bothered to confirm his victories, his score mounted rapidly". One morning, another pilot tips off Biggles as to where the Rumpler is. Biggles flies higher than the waiting German Albatrosses and dives straight through them, getting the Rumpler in one burst at the end of the dive. Two Albatrosses collide and are also destroyed. The smashed aeroplane propeller of the Rumpler is placed on "Batty's" grave.
This story was later republished as "The Decoy" in issue number 266 of "The Modern Boy" dated 11th March 1933
THE BOOB (pages 155 to 167)
Biggles receives a letter from "an elderly female relative" to say that she has pulled strings to get his cousin, whose Christian names are Algernon Montgomery, into 266 Squadron. This is of course, the first appearance of Algy, Biggles' long time friend who was to appear in many stories over the years. Interestingly his surname is not given in the story. Algy is described as having a face "which wore a permanent expression of surprise" and "was a mass of freckles". Biggles initially gives Algy the cold shoulder and insists on being called Captain Bigglesworth. Biggles tells Algy all the important things he needs to know about flying over the Western Front and takes him for his first ever trip over the lines. Algy chases after some German planes against orders and soon Biggles loses him. Biggles returns to base believing Algy must have been killed but Algy returns and claims to have got lucky and shot down a German! Checking, Biggles finds a charred wreck at the corner of Mossyface Wood (an interesting choice of name there by the author, as 'Mossyface' was his first ever book). On their next trip over the lines, Biggles and Algy have an encounter with some Fokkers and Algy flies at the Germans like a mad dog, without firing any bullets. Biggles later finds out that Algy's gun had jammed, yet he stuck it out and didn't flee. "You'll do, kid" says Biggles, "and you can call me Biggles".
(This story was originally first published in the September 1932 edition of Popular Flying Magazine – click here for more details)
This story was later republished as "The Boob" in issue number 267 of "The Modern Boy" dated 18th March 1933
THE BATTLE OF FLOWERS (pages 169 to 177)
266 Squadron are attacked and bombed at their own aerodrome, by a German Hannoverana bomber, and Algy's carefully prepared garden, containing Sunflowers, is destroyed. At 3.30 am the following morning, Algy sets off alone to take revenge by bombing Aerodrome 29 where, it is believed, the German plane came from. Biggles immediately takes two pilots with him and flies over to save Algy. Biggles shoots up a German aeroplane trying to take off and causes it to crash and they manage to extract Algy from the scene. It turns out that Algy wasn't bombing the German hangers, but just their flower beds!
(This story was originally first published in the October 1932 edition of Popular Flying Magazine – click here for more details)
This story was later republished as "Battle of Flowers" in issue number 268 of "The Modern Boy" dated 25th March 1933
THE BOMBER (pages 179 to 190)
Biggles attacks a heavily defended new German bomber and finds that it has no blind spots. He is shot at from every approach angle and one bullet cuts his ignition lead, causing his Bentley Rotary engine to cut out. Biggles is able to glide down and make a landing at 287 Squadron's aerodrome. Wilks tells Biggles the plane is a Friedrichshafen and two pilots have been killed already, trying to attack it. Biggles decides to attack the German plane under the nacelle using a Lewis gun, which fires directly upwards, through his centre section. After an initial failed attempt, Biggles shoots the German pilot and the German observer has to try to land the bomber but the plane crashes during the forced landing.
This story was later republished as "The Flying Arsenal" in issue number 269 of "The Modern Boy" dated 1st April 1933
ON LEAVE (pages 193 to 208)
Biggles is astonished to see that he is to be posted to "Home Establishment". In order to have the order withdrawn he agrees to take leave and in fact, the posting was a trick to force Biggles to take leave. Flying back to the UK in a Camel, we are told that Biggles arrives home only to discover the house closed and a friend of the family tells him that his father and brother, his only living relations, were in the Army and "somewhere in France". After meeting with Dick Harboard, his father's greatest friend and associate, Biggles is invited to Dick's house in the country. Attending the house in "mufti" (civilian clothes), Biggles is treated disrespectfully by other guests. When Biggles hears of two German Seaplanes bombing Ramsgate, Biggles immediately goes to Lympne to get his Camel and shoots them both down. He is able to return to the house before the other guests return from a shooting trip. When Dick Harboard tells Biggles he shouldn't be surprised if he got the D.S.O. (Distinguished Service Order) for his actions, the other guests realise that Biggles is not the coward they thought he was. (Interestingly, Johns refers to Dick Harboard by the name of Harcourt later in the story).
This story was later republished as "The White Feather" in issue number 270 of "The Modern Boy" dated 8th April 1933
FOG! (pages 211 to 224)
On his way back to 266 Squadron in France, flying from England, Biggles gets lost in fog and has to land to find out where he is. Biggles is shocked to discover he has landed by a secret camouflaged German gas supply dump. Here he accidentally meets a spy who refers to himself only by the number "2742". Biggles returns to his Camel and flies away as the fog lifts. He then has to survive heavy 'archie' fire before shooting down a Fokker triplane and returning to his Squadron in Maranique. Biggles makes out a report to Headquarters to report the whereabouts of the Gas dump and credits the find to the spy - although in an unfortunate error in the book, he credits it to "2792"!
This story was later republished as "Lost in the Sky" in issue number 271 of "The Modern Boy" dated 15th April 1933
AFFAIRE DE COEUR (pages 227 to 243)
This is one of the most well known of Biggles' stories, where he meets the love of his life, Marie Janis. When his magneto shorts out, after picking up a new Camel from the Aircraft Park, Biggles makes a forced landing near Clarmes. At a nearby house he meets "a vision of blonde loveliness wrapped up in blue silk, smiling at him". "You were looking for me, perhaps?" she asks him, to which he replies, "Mademoiselle, I've been looking for you all my life". Over the next week, their romance blossoms and Marie explains that her father is over the other side of the German lines and she has not been able to contact him to tell him that his wife, her mother, is dead. Biggles offers to drop a message and this is what he does, at a place called Chateau Boreau. Unbeknown to Biggles however, Air Intelligence is watching his every move and they substitute the letter for another. Biggles drops in at 287 Squadron and then drives out to Marie Janis' house. German bombers fly over and bomb the house. Biggles is stopped from going into the house and told that the message he was to deliver for Marie contained a detailed map setting out how to bomb 266 Squadron aerodrome. Air Intelligence staff had swapped the map for one of the house so that the Germans had bombed the wrong target. Marie Janis was a spy! Biggles returns to his aerodrome, desolate, but finds a letter from Marie inviting him to a meeting at the time that 266 was to have been bombed. Marie had wanted to save him. Another letter arrives, explaining that she loves him, but as he now knows she is a spy they must part. "We shall meet again" she says ........ and they do, in the 1965 book BIGGLES LOOKS BACK
This story was later republished as "Biggles Falls in Love!" in issue number 297 of "The Modern Boy" dated 14th October 1933
THE LAST SHOW (pages 245 to 259)
Following his affair with Marie Janis, Biggles begins to drink heavily. He's drinking half a bottle of whisky in the morning, before daylight, and flying with such disregard of the consequences that it is clear he will soon be killed. Major Mullen, the C.O., decides Biggles has to be sent home and finds a reason to do so when a new officer is required to form a new Squadron of Snipes back in England, before bringing them over to France. The C.O. speaks to both Mahoney and McLaren, the other flight leaders, who are more senior to Biggles, for their views and they both agree that Biggles should have the post. The C.O. explains that he will be going to Wing Command shortly and one of them will have to take over his job in any event. Meanwhile, Biggles flies over Chateau Boreau, where he dropped Marie's message and thinks he sees her in the grounds. Orders are posted. Captain Bigglesworth M.C. is promoted to Major from 10th November 1918 and sent to command 319 Squadron from 11th November 1918. Biggles asks to do one final "show" with 266 Squadron. It turns out to be escorting bombers on two raids. The morning target will be Aerodrome 27 and the afternoon target will be Chateau Boreau! The morning raid results in a massive dogfight and an attack by up to 30 German planes. Biggles shoots down a Fokker, his last "kill" of the war, before he himself is shot down in a hail of lead. A wounded Biggles crashes and escapes from his Camel before it bursts into flames. Biggles is captured and after some initial rough treatment, a German Officer tells him an Armistice was signed half an hour ago, the war is over. The afternoon raid will never take place.
This story was later republished as "Biggles' Last Fight!" in issue number 298 of "The Modern Boy" dated 21st October 1933
The dust cover of the book shows three Sopwith Camels and was painted by W. E. Johns himself. Johns also did all the internal illustrations.
The Camels are Coming
Publication Details - published by John Hamilton
Titlepage of the first edition. The first edition did not have a frontispiece
Frontispiece of the fourth edition onwards - NB - The first three editions did NOT have a frontispiece. The colour frontispiece first appeared in the fourth edition
(The colour frontispiece illustrates a scene from the story “The Bomber”. The scene is on page 181 of the FIRST edition but page 158 of the FOURTH edition (which was the first edition to have the colour frontispiece).
Click on the above to see them in more detail