BIGGLES IN FRANCE
by W. E. Johns
10. BIGGLES AND THE FLYING WARDROBE! (Pages 150 - 164)
(First published in the Modern Boy on 12th January 1935 – Issue 362)
(This is ‘Twelve Thousand Feet Up’ (Chapter 20) & ‘Returned Unknown’ (Chapter 21) in the book and the story became “HUMBUGS” in “Biggles of 266”).
Captain Bigglesworth lands in his “much-shot-about aeroplane”. “You seem to have been having some fun,” suggested Algy. “Fun, eh?” grunted Biggles, pointing to the shot-torn machine. “If that’s your idea of fun, it’s time you were locked up in a padded cell!” Biggles says he is going to knock the block off Wilkinson. Biggles had gone over to thank him for sending down a bunch of records for the new gramophone and they got talking about the Boeleke “circus” that has planted itself right opposite Wilks’ crowd. “To cut a long story short, he suggested that I should do the decoy act for them. The idea was to rendezvous over Hamel at ten-thirty, me at twelve thousand feet up, and all the S.E. ‘planes they could muster at eighteen thousand feet. I was to draw the German Albatrosses down, and our S.E.’s would come down on top of them”. Biggles did his part and saw nine S.E.’s high up but when the Germans came down at him the S.E.’s disappeared over the horizon. “And there was me, up Salt Creek without a paddle”. “There they were, coming down like a swarm of wasps that had been starved for a million years!” said Biggles. “There I was, and there was the circus! But having got ‘em, I didn’t know what to do with ‘em, and that’s a fact!” “What did you do with them?” asked Batson eagerly. He had only recently joined the squadron. "Nothing,” Biggles said. Nothing at all. Don’t ask fool questions. I came home. Biggles said he went back to Wilks’ place and found them playing bridge. Wilks said he thought Biggles meant the show was to be done tomorrow! The S.E.s Biggles saw were Squadron No. 311 going off on escort duty to meet some “Fours” (D.H.4’s) that had gone over on a bombing raid. Biggles plots his revenge. He tells Algy that he is going “to pull Wilks’ leg so hard that he will never get it back into its socket”. Biggles knows Wilks has a passion for “those big lumps of toffee with stripes on” – humbugs. Algy will tell Wilks he has discovered a new shop in Amiens where they have some beauties and go over on the tender with him, the plan being to keep him out of the way for a long as Algy can. In the meantime, Biggles intends to borrow a German Pfalz Scout from Squadron No. 91 as they forced one to land the other day. Well on into the afternoon, there is alarm and consternation at Squadron No. 287 when a Pfalz Scout flies over and drops a message. Someone reads it. “It’s Wilks,” he said in a low voice. “He’s down – over the other side! The Huns got him over Bettonau, half an hour ago – got his engine. By the courtesy of the C.O. of the Hun squadron where they have taken him, he has sent this message to say that he is unhurt, and would like someone to bring him over a change of clothes. He says he can have his shirts and pyjamas and pants – anything we think might be useful. If someone will drop them on the Boche aerodrome at Douai, they will be handed to him before he is sent to the prison camp tonight”. Parker, a pilot of Wilks’ flight, claimed the honour. Meanwhile Biggles is landing at Mont St. Eloi, the station of Naval Squadron No. 91, to be criticised by Lee, a junior officer, for being gone half an hour when it was only supposed to be a quick flip around the aerodrome. Biggles asks Lee not to say anything to anyone. Biggles flies his Camel back to Maranique and an hour later Algy and Wilks return from Amiens, not having found the shop which sold the biggest humbugs in France as Algy couldn’t remember where it was. Wilks invites Algy and Biggles over to his squadron for dinner. They travel over by tender to be greeted by a hush at the arrival of Wilks. Wilks goes to his room only to find his kit missing. Parker tells Wilks all his clothes have been dropped at Douai and he explains why. They hear a German Mercedes engine outside and a large, dark round object goes bounding across the aerodrome. Wilks says the thing dropped will go bang in a minute and in order to “settle it”, he opens fire at it with a machine-gun. He continues to fire until he thinks the bundle is safe. Then, opening it, Wilks discovers it is his clothes(!) A mangled note in English can be read. “From Jagdstaffel Commander, Douai. Message not understood. No Captain Wilkinson at Douai. Have made inquiries at other units, but no explanation received. Thinking mistake has been made, kit is returned with compliments”. Realisation dawns on Wilks and he looks around for Algy and Biggles but they have disappeared. “Far away a tender was racing down the long, white, poplar-lined highway, leaving a great cloud of dust in its wake”.