BIGGLES LEARNS TO FLY
by W. E. Johns
3. BIGGLES THE SCOUT! (Pages 49 - 64)
(First published in the Modern Boy on 28th April 1934 – Issue 325)
(This was ‘Plots and Plans’ (Chapter 5) & ‘Late for Dinner’ (Chapter 6) in the original “Boy’s Friend Library” first edition and in the 1955 revised edition)
A week has passed since Biggles “first never-to-be-forgotten flight over the Lines. He had done at least one patrol every day since and was already beginning to feel that he was an old hand at the game. He had picked up the art of war flying with an aptitude that had amazed everyone”. Biggles’ flight-commander, Mabs, tells Biggles about a mission to report on any changes at the railway junction and siding at Vanfleur, some 40 miles over the Line. Littleton and Gormsby and Blake and Anderson have both tried to do it but not returned. Now it is the turn of ‘A’ flight. Mabs has been ordered not to go himself so it is either Biggles, Marriot or McAngus who has to go. The three of them toss coins and the odd coin out will be the one to go. It is Biggles. Mabs tells Biggles that first thing in the morning will be best as “that’s the time these shows are usually done”. Biggles says the “Huns know that as well as we do” so he will go that afternoon. Biggles and Mark are briefed by the C.O. and then take off at 2.00 pm. Biggles climbs to 8,000 feet before going over the Lines but it is cloudy and he has to come down to 2,000 feet when at the objective. They come under immediate anti-aircraft fire (archie) whilst Biggles flies around and Mark counts trucks and makes notes. The archie stops when the German planes arrive from two sides and Biggles is forced to fly north-west to get away, dodging in and out of the clouds. They shake off their pursuers but find themselves well over the sea off the Belgian coast. Two German Albatrosses attack them but Biggles swerves out of the way and the two German planes collide (presumable these count as the first two planes Biggles “shot down” or certainly the first two of his war-time ‘score’?). Biggles sees the fragments of the two German scouts strike the water with a terrific splash.
As darkness falls, Biggles and Mark fly back towards the coast but it becomes clear they are not going to reach it (presumably due to lack of fuel). Mark throws his guns overboard, to prevent the enemy getting them and to reduce weight. He takes off his coat and flying boots and throws those overboard as well, telling Biggles to do the same. Mark stores the precious written report in a leather wallet. They are almost at the beech when the plane flops into the water but they are able to make it ashore, half drowned. It is very cold and they hide in the dunes while German soldiers arrive and examine the wreckage. Waiting until it is really dark they make their way to the back of the German Lines then swim out to sea to get around the barbed wire. “How long they swarm he did not know, but it seemed to be an eternity and he was just about to call out that he could go no farther when Mark turned shorewards”. Arriving at the other side of the Lines, the allied side, they are taken to a Belgian officer and given blankets and boiling soup. An hour later, a British staff officer arrives and Mark hands over his report, wet but still legible. The officer has a car and with borrowed Belgian uniforms they arrive back at their mess hall whilst dinner is in progress. They are greeted with laughter and Mark knows “the laughter was simply the British way of expressing relief after they had been given up for lost”. They sit down for dinner before telling everyone all about it.