Stories of Biggles in War-time


by Captain W. E. Johns


First published August 1941



Dedication (Page 4)  To all those boys who knew Biggles in the early days, and have followed him into the blue, I dedicate these stories in the hope that his ideals may be an inspiration to them”.  REIGATE HEATH, November 1940.  W. E. J.



“When you are flying, everything is all right or it is not all right.  If it is all right there is no need to worry.  If it is not all right one of two things will happen.  Either you will crash or you will not crash.  If you do not crash there is no need to worry.  If you do crash one of one of two things is certain.  Either you will be injured or you will not be injured.  If you are not injured there is no need to worry.  If you are injured one of two things is certain.  Either you will recover or you will not recover.  If you recover there is no need to worry.  If you don’t recover you can’t worry”.




There is no list of illustrations in this book but here are the details of the illustrations (Frontispiece by Radcliffe Wilson and six illustrations by the same artist on pages 47, 53, 105, 157, 177 and 215)


I.      BIGGLES TAKES OVER  (Pages 7 – 32)


The book opens with “A raw north-easterly wind swept gustily across the Weald of Kent …”  This is where the newly formed Number 666 Fighter Squadron is based.  Three Spitfires arrive and three men get out.  One strides in front of the others “His hands, as small and delicate as those of a girl, were nearly lost in the fur of the gloves they carried”.  This is Squadron Leader James Bigglesworth, D.S.O., D.F.C., better known in flying circles as ‘Biggles’.  With him is Flight Lieutenant the Hon. Algernon Lacey, D.F.C., and Pilot Officer ‘Ginger’ Hebblethwaite.  They are greeted by a man whom Biggles recognises, Toddy, Recording Officer at 266 Squadron “in the old days”.  Toddy, who is the Station Adjutant, has heard of their adventures.  “You seem to have got over a nice time, flying round the world and what-not”.  Biggles says Colonel Raymond, “a friend of ours”, is responsible for him, Biggles, being given command of the Squadron.  Toddy says two officers turned up this morning, Ferris and O’Hara.  Biggles goes into the office and says to Algy and Ginger “Oh, and by the way, you fellows, don’t call me Biggles – at least, not in front of the others.  I’ve got to make some show of discipline”.  Biggles opens and reads a letter from Raymond.  The Squadron is for “star turns and officers who do not take kindly to discipline”.  The letter gives an example, and refers to Lord Lissie.  “He’s a Flight Lieutenant, and should make you a brilliant, if somewhat eccentric, Flight Commander; he’s a devil with a Spitfire and a wizard with a gun, but I’m afraid he’s as mad as a hatter”.  “Carrington is another queer case”.  The letter says he is a Cockney whose parents were killed in one of the first raids on the East End.  “Ferris and O’Hara are friends; they are queer birds, and as yet without experience, but they show promise so I am sending them to you”.  “Best of luck”.  Biggles says he is going to have a squadron of lunatics and then he hears a hunting horn and a terrier runs through his office chasing a cat.  A tall, slim young man enters and says “What cheer” with a slight lisp.  Biggles says “And your name is, I suspect, Lissie.  Am I right?”  “Absolutely,” Bertie confirms.  “Yes, absolutely right”.  (This is the very first introduction of Lord Bertie Lissie, who goes on to become one of Biggles regular companions for the rest of the series of novels).  Bertie explains that he was exercising his dog, Towser, as he was told that no one had yet arrived.  The phone rings and Biggles answers it:  It is Fighter Command.  A Blenheim is on the way to Calais to take photos of the docks and it may need an escort home.  Biggles tells Lissie to take over B Flight and he’ll find two officers in the shed.  The three of them are to go and escort the Blenheim home.  “What fun” chortles Bertie and he salutes and leaves.  Biggles tells his colleagues “Raymond was right, that fellow’s off his rocker”.  “What have I done to deserve this?” he whispered plaintively.  (There is then a break in the chapter and the story continues.  However, what we now have was originally an eight page story – with illustrations – from the February 1940 edition of “Air Stories” entitled “So This Is War”.  The differences in italics are from the original story).  Bertie goes to the hanger for B Flight (originally A Flight) and meets George ‘Ferocity’ Ferris from Liverpool (originally from Wapping, London), an amateur boxer, and Tex O’Hara from Cactusville, Texas, U.S.A, a former New York cop.  Ferocity and Tex are somewhat amused by Bertie and Tex thinks he is a “dumb-bell”.  Tex asks what will happen if they run into “a bunch of Huns” and suggests that Bertie might come home.  “Only the best men of each side will go home” says Bertie and he orders nobody to go home until he leads the way – unless he is on the grass or in the drink.  “Is that quite clear?”  “I guess so,” nodded Tex.  Bertie eyed him dispassionately.  “For your sake I hope you’ve guessed right”.  The three pilots climb into their aircraft and fly towards the Channel (originally towards Germany as the original story was set in France and the Blenheim was taking photos over Saarbrucken rather than Calais).  The three planes find themselves under attack and the resulting combat is told from the point of view of Tex, as things happen around him that he doesn’t quite understand or appreciate the significance of.  They find the Blenheim and escort it home, battling Messerschmitts on the way and not leaving the Blenheim until it is well over England.  As they return to their airfield, Tex sees the bullet holes in the Spitfires of his two comrades.  They land and Tex comments on the holes to Ferocity, who tells him to look at his own.  Bertie’s plane is the worst and Tex wonders how Bertie got it in such a mess.  Ferocity tells him “Twice you had a Messerschmitt (Messer. in the original) on your tail and Lissie shot it off.  He got two in flames”.  Bertie tells them to all get along and make their reports.  “It’s an awful bore, but it must be done” (In the original, Bertie says “How about a little drink?”).  As Bertie takes off his flying kit, Tex and Ferocity see “the ribbons of the D.F.C (Distinguished Flying Cross) and A.F.C. (Air Force Cross)”.  Tex whispers “A little runt like that with a couple of gongs”.  “I guess if I stay in this outfit long enough I shall learn a thing or two,” conceded Tex.  “How we win our wars, for instance,” grinned Ferocity (although the very last part of that last line continued in the original “as they followed Bertie to the bar”).