by W. E. Johns

(William Earle)


First published September 1932





There is no list of illustrations in this book, however each of the 17 stories has a full page black and white illustration at the start of the story, drawn by W. E. Johns himself.  There was no colour frontispiece in the first three editions of the book which ran to 259 pages.  From the fourth editions onwards, which only had 220 pages, there is a colour frontispiece with the caption “The Camel soared up like a bird under the big fuselage”.  There is no reference to what page or story this illustrates but it is in fact a line from ‘The Bomber’ and can be found on page 158 of the fourth edition onwards (page 181 in the first three editions).


FORWARD  (Pages 7 - 15)


"Captain James Bigglesworth is a fictitious character, yet he could have been found in any R.F.C. mess during those great days of 1917 and 1918 when air combat had become the order of the day and air duelling was a fine art".  That is the first line of this, the first ever Biggles book.  Of course, Johns would not have known when he was gathering together this collection of short stories, (seven of which were published in "Popular Flying" monthly between April 1932 and October 1932 inclusive), that eventually there would be 274 Biggles stories collected into 101 Biggles books.  In this excellent forward, Johns gives a rundown of some of the incredible stories of air-combat in the Great War.  Each of the 17 short stories start feature an illustration drawn by Johns himself (uncredited), so there are 17 of these line drawn illustrations in the book.  The original first edition of the book, which ran to 259 pages, had no coloured frontispiece but one was added from the fourth edition onwards, which ran to 220 pages and a number of errors in the first three editions of the book where also then corrected.  The forward signs off with "Lingfield, 1932  W.E.J" which was where Johns lived in 1932.


I.                      THE WHITE FOKKER  (Pages 17 - 31)


"To the casual observer, the attitude of the little group of pilots clustered around the entrance of "B" Flight hangar was one of complete nonchalance".  This is the very first line of the very first Biggles story.  The group of pilots referred to contains Captain MacLaren, Quinan, Swayne and Acting Flight-Commander Bigglesworth (popularly known as Biggles).  “He had killed a man not six hours before.  He had killed six men during the past month – or was it a year? - he had forgotten.  Time had become curiously telescoped lately”.  They are talking and waiting for the return of the evening patrol.  The Commanding Officer (C.O.) Major Mullen comes out as three Sopwith Camels return, only to see a white-painted Fokker D.VII dive from above and shoot down one of the Camels, flown by a pilot named Norman.  The two surviving Camels taxi in, the Flight-Commander is Mahoney and the other pilot is Manley.  Mullen is aware of this trick.  It was done at 197 Squadron three times.  “He'll try it again, and if he pulls it off again here it's our funeral.  We've had our lesson.  We'll get him; we've got to get him.  You know the unwritten law about having an officer shot down on his own aerodrome?  We can't show our faces in another mess until we do get him”.  A plan is formed by Biggles to take his flight to the ceiling over Mossyface Wood until they see Mahoney coming back and then follow him home as protection.  This happens but this time the white Fokker is protected by five other Fokkers.  Biggles survives the ensuing attack but Swayne and Maddison are killed.  Biggles comes up with another plan; he will pretend to be a complete novice whilst flying with Mahoney and take on the white Fokker if attacked.  Major Mullen will lead other planes offering further protection.  The following day the plan is put into action and Biggles plays the part to perfection.  He is attacked by the white Fokker and in a clever looping manoeuvre he gets to shoot the Fokker down.