BIGGLES IN FRANCE
by W. E. Johns
12. BIGGLES’ BORROWED PLUMES (Pages 180 - 192)
(First published in the Modern Boy on 19th January 1935 – Issue 363)
(This is ‘Under Open Arrest!’ (Chapter 24) & ‘The Laugh’s With Us!’ (Chapter 25) in the book and the story became “REPRISALS” in “Biggles of 266”and “ONE GOOD TURN” in “Spitfire Parade”).
NB – The last two stories were transposed from the order they were published in “The Modern Boy” so that the book finished on a lighter note.
Algy goes to visit a new squadron, No. 301, recently arrived in France from England with its Bristol Fighters (of course, 301 Squadron featured in the previous story so the swapping of the stories around led to that continuity error!). “In accordance with the custom in vogue at the time, he did not land immediately. For the honour and glory of the squadron to which he belonged he first treated any casual spectators of his arrival to a short performance in the art of stunting”. When he lands he faces the wrath of a Captain, in command during the temporary absence of Major Benson. “Don’t argue with me! I say your flying was outrageous – a wanton risk of Government property!” “But I -” says Algy. “Silence! Consider yourself under open arrest! Report your name and unit to my office, and then return instantly to your own squadron! I shall refer the matter to Wing Headquarters. You will hear further from your own C.O.” Algy goes to the office and finds out the name of the officer he has annoyed is called Bitmore. “He’s bit more than he can chew this time, and he’ll soon know it” declared Algy. Algy flies back to Maranique and tells Biggles and Mahoney what has happened. “The dirty scallyway!” mutters Biggles and he plots revenge with Mahoney. A couple of hours later two Sopwith Camels arrive over Squadron No. 301’s aerodrome at Cassel and try to land in the most dismal and amateurish way possible, overshooting and undershooting. Eventually when they do land, Captain Bitmore is furious. “Pilots! Pilots, eh?” He choked for a moment, and then got into his stride with a harsh, scornful laugh. “You’re not fit to pilot a perambulator down a promenade, either of you! You’re a disgrace to the Service! A steamroller driver could have put up a better show! Never have I seen such a disgraceful exhibition of utter inefficiency, complete uselessness, and supreme inability! How and why you are alive is a mystery to me, and the sooner you are put on ground duties the safer the air will be for other people who can fly! You make me - ”. “His voice trailed away to a silence that could be felt as the nearest of the two recipients of his invective slowly unfastened his flying coat and took it off, disclosing the insignia of a full colonel. The other had followed his example, and stood arrayed in the uniform of a staff major”. Suddenly the boot is on the other foot as Captain Bitmore gets a dressing down from the Colonel in front of his men. They have their planes refuelled and then leave. Back at Maranique, Biggles, the “Colonel” and Mahoney, the “Major” sob with laughter. Two days later, Major Benson calls to see Major Mullen and says he has bought out a new squadron – No. 301 at Cassel. Benson says that he saw Logan of General Headquarters last night and he happened to mention there was to be a surprise inspection of Mullen’s station today, so Benson had come to tip him off. Mullen loses no time in getting everyone working and cleaning up. Everyone then has to parade in their best uniforms. The hours pass “and still there was no sign of the staff officers – otherwise ‘brass-hats’”. Then nine Bristol Fighters fly over and drop a message. “It is requested that Captains Mahoney and Bigglesworth be asked how they like their eggs boiled. For and on behalf of the officers of Squadron No. 301. (Signed) A. L. Benson, Major”. Mullen asks Biggles and Mahoney for an explanation and they tell him the whole story. Mullen says that Benson has discovered the plot and rather than have the two officers reported to Headquarters, where they would have both been court-martialled, he has taken an unofficial course to enable the squadron to get its own back. Suddenly, Wat Tyler informs Major Mullen that a staff car has just arrived, with a full load of officers from General Headquarters! By pure chance there is a real surprise inspection! An hour later, General Sir Martin Ashby, addresses the officers and mechanics of Squadron No. 266. “Your equipment is a credit to yourselves, your commanding officer, and the Service as a whole. I shall make it my business to see that the magnificent example you have set is made known to every other squadron in France”. Major Mullen is told that all requests from his squadron will in future receive his personal consideration and applications for leave will receive priority”. “Yes, the laugh is certainly with us” says Mullen. “What is more, I took the opportunity of mentioning Lacey’s little episode, and the general has promised to put the matter right with Wing, which means that no further action will be taken in the matter, except that Captain Bitmore is likely to get a rap over the knuckles. In fact, everything seems to have panned out extremely well!”