BIGGLES IN FRANCE
by W. E. Johns
9. BIGGLES’ PAPERCHASE! (Pages 131 - 150)
(First published in the Modern Boy on 5th January 1935 – Issue 361)
(This is ‘A Sporting Offer’ (Chapter 18) & ‘Getting a Gramophone’ (Chapter 19) in the book and the story became “THE PRIZE” in “Biggles of 266”).
Algy enters the billiard-room looking for Biggles. “Hi!” cried Algy, “I’ve got some news that will shake you!” “You may have news, but I doubt it will shake me,” rejoined Biggles. “I’ve been in this perishing war too long for anything to occasion me either surprise or consternation. What is it? Has Fishface decided to stand us a dinner?” Fishface was the popular name for Brigadier-General Tishlace, general officer commanding the wing in which Squadron No. 266 was brigaded. The answer is no. They have been detailed for a week’s propaganda work, “dropping leaflets over the other side of the Line telling the Huns that they’re losing the war”. It’s dangerous as it you get caught “It’s either a firing-party at dawn, up against a brick wall, or the salt mines in Siberia!” As a result people tend not to go far over the lines. Wilkinson – better known as ‘Wilks’ of the neighbouring S.E. 5 Squadron – arrives. He has heard they have been detailed for “this paperchase” and says they have been doing it for three days. Wilks says he dropped some over Lille yesterday, some ten miles over. When the distance is criticised, he says that it is farther than “you Camel merchants are likely to go”. Biggles says he will drop leaflets over Tournai and take a camera to prove it. Tournai is thirty miles over. Major Mullen and Major Raymond (he is a Major in this story, not a Colonel) come into the mess and hear the rivalry. Raymond says “I’ll present a new gramophone to the squadron that takes a packet of those leaflets Farthest East during the next two days. Time expires – shall we say – at twelve noon the day after tomorrow?” The next day, Biggles drops leaflets over Tournai and takes a picture with his camera. Flying back, Biggles sees a formation of six British bombers, D.H. 4’s, being hotly attacked on all sides by some fifteen to twenty Albatross scouts – German ‘planes”. The D.H.’s seemed to be holding their own, however, and held on their way, flying in a tight V-formation”. (Johns, of course, was a D.H.4 bomber pilot himself). “The affair was nothing to do with Biggles; in any case, he could not hope to serve any good purpose by butting in, although he wondered why no escort had been provided for the bombers, so he gave them as wide as berth as possible, hoping to pass unobserved. But it was not to be”. The Albatrosses see Biggles and come after him. “The nearest Albatross was less than a quarter of a mile away. Once it caught him he would be compelled to stay and fight, for to fly straight on would mean being shot down like a sparrow”. Biggles flies for home until the first Albatross is in range and then he spins to near the ground. Biggles pretends to be hit and makes an awkward landing, then sags in the cockpit. One German lands nearby and the others go to land at a nearby aerodrome. When the one German pilot walks towards him, Biggles salutes and then speeds across the turf and takes off again. This ruse gives him a clear lead of two miles and he is able to get back to Maranique safely. Waiting for Biggles is a letter from Wilks containing a photograph of leaflets being dropped over Gontrude – 12 miles further over the lines than Tournai. Biggles mutters “There’s another day left yet!” Later in the day, Biggles tells Algy, “I’ve been exercising my mental equipment on this crazy long-distance stunt, and the points that stick out most clearly in my mind are these: First of all, if it goes on, somebody’s going to get killed; it’s asking for trouble. Secondly, we can’t let Wilks and his crowd get away with it”. Biggles has a plan and he tells Algy what it is as he needs Algy to help him out. “At eleven-thirty the following morning, the aerodrome at Maranique presented an animated appearance, for rumours of the contest had leaked out, and pilots had come from nearby squadrons to see the conclusion”. “Certain other officers had aspired to win the prize in the earlier stages of the contest, they had soon abandoned their ideas before the suicidal achievements of the two chief participants, Biggles and Wilks”. Wilks comes in to land in his S.E.5 and hands Major Raymond a photograph of Mons – fifty to sixty miles inside German occupied territory. “Well, that will take some beating,” admitted the Major, amid renewed cheers”. The Major wonders where Biggles is. Biggles has reached his objective with ridiculous ease and is on the way back, but knows this is the hardest part as “his passage would have been noted by hostile air units, who would climb to the limit of their height to await his return”. Seeing German planes in the distance, Biggles spins down from eighteen thousand feet to six thousand feet. Then he sideslips down to less than one hundred feet. Lower and lower he flies until his wheels are just skimming above the ground. For fifteen minutes he gets away with it and then he is spotted and the German planes dive down at him. Biggles has five miles to go. Biggles makes a dramatic landing back at Maranique, with his plane in a mess and his engine choking and his propeller stopping. Biggles gets out and hands his camera over to have his photograph developed. He has fourteen minutes to spare. Ten minutes later, Flight-Sergeant (I am never sure if this rank should have capital letters or not. The Normal Wright version does but in the original Boys’ Friend Library version this was “Flight-sergeant”) Smyth arrives with a photo of – Brussels! Wilks says he couldn’t carry enough petrol to get to Brussels and back. Biggles says he flew over with Algy and landed in a field about forty miles over the Lines where Algy refuelled him and then he flew on whilst Algy returned. Biggles gets the gramophone. “Wilks’ face broke into a smile, and he extended his hand. “Good show, Biggles!” he said, “You deserve it!” Biggles invites Wilks and his chaps over to dinner that evening, but he suspects trouble. Wilks arrives with only half of his fellow pilots. Wilks notices that Algy is missing and when there is a commotion in the ante-room it is because the other half of the S.E.5 pilots are after the gramophone and Algy is fending them off. “Two-sixty-six to the rescue!” yelled Biggles, dashing into the fray”. Biggles says to Wilks “It’s no good, my lad, if you want a new gramophone you’ll have to buy one. We won this, and we’re jolly well keeping it!”