by W. E. Johns



9.  BIGGLES BUYS THE SKY!  (Pages 146 - 160)

(First published in the Modern Boy on 9th June 1934 – Issue 331)


(This was ‘A Perforated Wreck’ (Chapter 15) & ‘The Black-Crossed Enemy’ (Chapter 16) in the original “Boy’s Friend Library” first edition and ‘The Camera’ (Chapter 10) in the 1955 revised edition – this story is not to be confused with the story ‘Biggles and the Flying Camera’ from ‘Biggles in France’ which was later republished as ‘The Camera’ in Biggles of 266!)


(This story is a continuation of the previous story.  In the ‘The Modern Boy’, where it was originally published, there was initially a short preamble to set the scene).  Biggles and Mark go to the mess for a rest before having to go out and photograph the destroyed German battery.  They learn from Toddy, the Recording Officer, that they are going to be equipped with new aircraft – Bristol Fighters.  ‘A’ flight, by reason of its seniority, will have them first.  “In future they would both have guns, to say nothing of a machine of higher performance”.  At 2.30 pm they go to the sheds to set out in their aircraft on their mission.  Mark has a plaster on his forehead from a cut he has received from flying glass.  The Medical Officer sees him as he passes by and examines the wound.  The M.O. then refuses to let Mark fly.  Biggles is told to take one of the two new observation officers instead.  The two men are called Harris and Culver and they toss a coin to see who will go.  Harris wins and is pleased because “Although Biggles was unaware of it, he – Biggles – had already achieved the reputation of being one of the best pilots in the squadron”.  Biggles sets off to the bombed German battery with a plan to take photographs from five thousand feet.  The photography is soon done and on the return journey to the aerodrome, Biggles sees a lone F.E. fighting a terrific battle with five shark-like enemy Albatroses.  Biggles flies in to help but Harris has not even seen the planes so Biggles roars at him “Get busy!”  Harris soon gets shooting.  “The fight did not last many minutes, but it was red-hot while it lasted.  One Albatros went down in flames; another glided down out of control with its engine evidently out of action.  The other three dived for home”.  Harris surveys their own machine which has been shot up badly and Biggles catches his eye and nods approvingly.  Biggles tells himself “You’ll do!”; “For the boy had undoubted acquitted himself well”.  They return to their aerodrome and land where they see a new Bristol Fighter has arrived.  Biggles is dismayed to find that the camera and photographic plate has been shot up in the battle with the Albatroses.  He will need to go again with a different camera.  Mapleton, his flight-commander, offers him the use of the new Bristol Fighter.  “That’s jolly sporting of you,” declared Biggles.  “I shan’t be long, and I’ll take care of her”.  With Harris on board again, they retrace their course to the enemy battery “for the fourth time that day”.  Here he finds the red and silver Albatros back again, and frowns “for the idea of taking on his old antagonist with a comparatively untried gunner in the back seat did not fill him with enthusiasm”.  Biggles takes the photographs and is then attacked by the Albatros.  Harris doesn’t fire back and Biggles turns to find him in a crumpled heap over the side of his cockpit.  The German is then faced with a pilot who is fighting mad.  “For the first time, the war had become a personal matter with Biggles, and he would have rammed his adversary if he could have reached him”.  Biggles gets on the tail of the Albatros and shoots it down.  “A tongue of scarlet flame licked along its side and a cloud of black smoke poured out of the engine.  The pilot covered his face with his hands.  “He saw the Hun break up just as it reached the lower stratum of cloud”.  (This would be the first plane that Biggles actually shot down himself!).  Four more German planes appear out of the mist in front of him and Biggles swerves round, seeing a fine wire standing vertically in the air.  Biggles realises it is a balloon cable.  Biggles has an idea and flies in such a direction that when the leading Albatros flies towards him, he goes straight into the balloon cable and it cuts the top and bottom port wings off “as cleanly as if they had been sheared through with an axe”.  The pilot falls to his death.  Biggles flies for home but the pursuing planes realise his gunner is down and continue their attacks.  Biggles is forced to fight and is doing so when one German machine breaks into bits as a Sopwith Pup sweeps over them.  Biggles is able to get away and the Pup stays with him until the aerodrome looms up.  Biggles fires a red Very light over the side to signal that the ambulance is needed, but Harris is already dead.  “Biggles did not look; he felt that tears were not far away, and was ashamed of his weakness”.  Biggles has the photographs developed for the C. O.  “Lucky for me the doc made me stay at home,” observed Mark.  Biggles shrugged his shoulders.  “Maybe.  On the other hand, it might not have happened if you’d been there”.  Mahoney from 266 squadron rings asking who was in the Bristol and is put on to Biggles.  Mahoney was the pilot of the Sopwith Pup.  Mahoney banters with Biggles and asks him “Have you bought the sky, or something?”  “Why, have you sold it?” asks Biggles.  Mahoney tells Biggles “We want you in No. 266.  The Old Man has already sent in an application for your transfer”.  Mahoney tells Biggles they are quits now.  Biggles tells him to meet him that night in the Hotel de Ville and Biggles will stand him dinner.  “I’ll be there!” Mahoney told him briskly.  “Bring your wallet – you’ll need it!”