by Captain W. E. Johns



VIII.                SHADOWS ON THE SHORE  (Pages 112 – 129)


The following morning Biggles discusses his plans as he “standing on the hull, sponged himself down briskly from a bucket of cold water”.  He wants to find the Seafret and get Sullivan to send a burying party ashore to deal with Tom and his mechanic.  He also wants to examine the crashed enemy plane as it may furnish them with important information, such as the nationality of the people they are up against.  Biggles notes there isn’t much room, but twice he taxies the full length of the lagoon they are on to make sure there are no partly submerged obstructions in the way.  Then, facing the longest possible run, he takes off.  Swinging round to the open sea, they see the Seafret and Biggles returns to the little bay they had used the previous day.  The Seafret joins them and drops anchor.  A boat is sent to get the three airmen.  Sullivan says they got the call signal and their position but haven’t heard a word since.  Biggles explains what happened to them.  “It looks as if things are getting warm,” muttered Sullivan when he had finished.  “Warmish,” agreed Biggles, “but they’ll be warmer still presently, I fancy”.  Biggles asks Sullivan to send a burial party ashore to deal with the dead men and asks for a couple of men with cutlasses or billhooks to help him hack his way to the crash site of enemy plane.  Algy is to go with the burial party, consisting of a dozen bluejackets with picks and shovels; Ginger is left in charge of the Nemesis.  Lovell, the Navigating Officer, tells Ginger the barometer’s falling and it is likely to be windy.  He sends a sailor called Gilmore to help Ginger get their plane ashore and peg her down.  When the sailor’s work is done, Gilmore is pleased to get a chance to stroll on dry land.  Algy’s party returns and Ginger tells Algy why he has put the Nemesis on the beach.  “I think you’re right,” Algy opined.  Ginger returns to the cabin of the plane to await the return of Biggles and sees “an evil yellow face, flat, wizened, surmounted by a tightly fitting skull-cap” looking out from the jungle.  Peeping out of the cockpit, Ginger sees Gilmore, apparently asleep under the wing.  Ginger calls him but he doesn’t respond.  Peeping again, Ginger sees the face again and hears the soft phut as if a light blow had fallen on the fuselage just below him.  Drawing his automatic, Ginger sees a bush quiver and “blazed at it recklessly, emptying his weapon except for a single round which he saved for emergency”.  Everything comes to life.  A boat is put out from the ship and races towards him.  Biggles, followed by his two men arrives back and comes out of the jungle and as Biggles comes towards the Nemesis.  Ginger warns him.  “Be careful,” he shouted, almost hysterically.  “Watch out – they’re in there”.  “Who’s in there?  What’s in there?” asks Biggles.  “N****rs!  Savages! Something – I don’t know,” answered Ginger incoherently.  (This is the fifth Biggles book to feature the use of the very offensive “N” word by W. E. Johns.  The word appears just once in this book but the offensive word “W*gs” appears in Chapter XIII.  Of course, in its day, the word was in regular use and not considered offensive at all, otherwise it would not have appeared in a children’s book, where even mild expletives are watered down.  The word remained in all Oxford editions of this book and also in the 1963 Armada paperback version (which is surprising as the four uses of the word had been removed from the 1962 Armada paperback version of “Biggles in Africa”).  In the 1994 Red Fox edition, where “Biggles – Air Commodore” is retitled “Biggles and the Secret Mission” the word is completely omitted and Ginger just says “Savages! Something – I don’t know”.)  Algy and several sailors arrive from the ship.  Ginger tells Biggles he has seen faces in the bushes.  Biggles asks him if he has been dreaming, but on seeing Gilmore’s body they realise the dreadful truth.  “Ginger took one look at the bared teeth and staring eyes, and then covered his face with his hands.  Biggles shock him roughly.  “How did it happen” he snapped.  A Chief Petty Officer with Biggles, who had seen much service in the Far East, says “It looks like Malay work to me, sir”.  “Gilmore was killed by a blow-pipe – look at this”.  He held up a tiny pointed dart, discoloured at the tip.  “One scratch of that and you’re a goner inside ten minutes,” he declared.  “Where did you find that?” asked Biggles.  “Stuck in the nose of your aeroplane” is the reply.  Biggles takes the Nemesis back onto the sea and they all go aboard the ship for a council of war.