BIGGLES IN FRANCE
by W. E. Johns
8. BIGGLES CARVES THE TURKEY! (Pages 116 - 130)
(First published in the Modern Boy on 29th December 1934 – Issue 360)
(This is ‘Turkey Hunting’ (Chapter 16) & ‘Biggles Gets the Bird’ (Chapter 17) in the book and the story became “THE TURKEY” in “Biggles of 266”).
When originally published in THE MODERN BOY, this story was in fact the last of three ‘Christmas’ stories published in December 1934. When it came to collecting the stories for ‘BIGGLES IN FRANCE’, only this last one was used – no doubt because it was considered to be the best. Biggles is in the mess “regarding the ever-threatening sky disconsolately. It was Christmas-time, and winter had long since displaced with its fogs and rains the white, piled clouds of summer, and perfect flying weather was now merely a memory of the past”. Biggles bemoans the mess caterer to Wat Tyler, the recording officer. “Tomorrow is Christmas Day, and he tells me he hasn’t got a turkey for dinner”. Biggles is told to go and get one himself if it is that easy. Wat says “I know for a fact that Martin has ransacked every roost, shop and warehouse for a radius of fifty miles, and there isn’t one to be had for love or money”. Biggles asks if someone will do his dawn patrols for a week if he can get a turkey. Mahoney says he will. Biggles leaves to go turkey hunting. “Now, when that conversation had commenced, Biggles had not the remotest idea of where he was going to start his quest for a turkey. But presently something awakened in his memory. He had a clear recollection of seeing a large flock of turkeys below him on an occasion when he had been flying very low, and as he left the room to fulfil his rash promise he suddenly recalled where he had seen them”. It was the other side of the Lines, some thirty or forty miles over. The weather is really bad for flying but Biggles says “Smyth, get my machine out”. “But it - ” began the N.C.O. “Get it out – don’t argue. My guns loaded?” “Yes, sir”. “Tanks full?” Yes, sir”. “Then get it out and start up”. Biggles takes off and “after climbing swiftly through a hole in the clouds Biggles came out above them at five thousand feet”. “He realised that his greatest chance of success lay in the fact that the place was so far over the Lines, well beyond the sphere of the German planes and the German infantry who were holding, or were in reserve for, the trenches. To have landed anywhere near them would have been suicidal. As it was, his objective was a remote hamlet where the only opposition he was likely to encounter on the ground was a farmer, or his men, although there was always a chance of running into stray German troops who were quartered or billeted well behind the Lines at rest camps, or on the lines of communication”. Biggles flies to the area and has to come down to three hundred feet to see the ground. He finds the village he seeks and then the well-remember farmhouse, but there are no turkeys. “They’re all dead by now. Plucked and hanging up in Berlin poulterers’ shops I expect”. Then Biggles sees “a great turkey cock, evidently the monarch of the flock, that had, no doubt, been kept as the leader of the next year’s brood”. Biggles lands in the field adjourning the paddock. Going for the turkey, Biggles is confronted by a Belgian man. Biggles asks him if any Germans are living in his house and he says they are. “Why have you come here?” the Belgian went on, in a nervous whisper. Biggles pointed to the turkey. “For that” he answered. “That is impossible” says the Belgain. “I am about to kill it, for it has been kept back for the German officers in the village”. “Will they pay for it?” asked Biggles quickly. “No”. “Then I will. How much?” Biggles pulls out some loose franc notes and says “Here, take this!” then leaps onto the bird. Suddenly there is a shout from the house as Biggles is seen by a German soldier and other soldiers pour out after him. Biggles runs back to his Camel, climbing the hedge and wondering how he is going to get such a large bird into a small cockpit with him. “In sheer desperation he plonked the bird on to the seat and sat on it. He felt sorry for the bird, but there was no alternative”. Under fire, Biggles starts to takes off. “No sooner had he started to take off than the bird gave a convulsive jerk that nearly threw him on to the centre section”. Whilst Biggles is flying along, the turkey “managed to get one wing in between Biggles’ legs and, using it as a lever, nearly sent him over the side; he only saved himself by letting go of the control-stick and grabbing at the side of the cockpit with both hands”. Biggles sees a lone German Albatross moving towards him. “That fellow must think I’ve got St Vitus’ Dance” thought Biggles moodily, as the bird started a new movement of short, sharp jerks which had the effect of causing the pilot to bob up and down and the machine to pursue a curious, undulating course”. The German attacks and fires at Biggles who “had no intention of losing his life for the sake of a meal, so he forthwith prepared to jettison his cargo – an action which had always been in the background of his mind as a last resort”. Biggles sees blood on his glove and realises the bird has been killed. “It had stopped the burst of fire which in normal circumstances would have caught him – Biggles – in the small of the back!” Now the bird is dead, it is easier to stow between the calves of his legs and the bottom of his seat. Biggles is able to buckle up his safety-belt and turn and shoot the attacking Albatross down. Biggles lands back at the aerodrome and enters the mess and heaves the bird onto the table. Biggles reminds Mahoney that he is doing his early patrols next week. “And, finally, don’t forget I’m carving the turkey!” he laughed.