by Captain W. E. Johns



VII.                 CUTHBERT COMES – AND GOES  (Pages 120 – 137)


“One of the strangest but most characteristic features of war flying is the manner in which comedy and tragedy so often go hand in hand.  Overnight, a practical joke may set a pilots’ mess rocking with mirth; by dawn, the perpetrator of it may have gone for a long spell in hospital – if not for ever.  But the joke will persist to perpetuate his memory, and those who tell it, and those who hear it, will laugh and laugh again, honest, spontaneous laughter – for tears must find no place in the eyes of those who hunt the skies.  They know that Old Man Death stands near their elbow, but it does not worry them.  They never allude to it except in fun, for this is the only philosophy for a war pilot.  Thus was it at 666 (Fighter) Squadron, now generally known throughout the Fighter Command as Biggles’s Squadron”.  Some members of the squadron are resting in an ante-room, Algy, Ginger, Bertie Lissie, Tug Carrington and Tex O’Hara.  A stranger enters in the uniform of a Pilot Officer, flinging the doors wide open and crying in a shrill voice “Any more for Marble Arch?”  “He then emitted a series of sounds that formed an excellent imitation of a train starting, punctuated with the usual slamming of doors”.  “Two to Waterloo!” he cried sharply using his elbow and fist on a table to create a “clonk-clonk”, which was precisely the sound made in a railway booking office by the instrument used for punching the date on a ticket.  There is a general titter of amusement.  Tug, however was irritated and asks “What do you think you are – a railway station?”  “I’m not always a railway” is the reply.  “Sometimes I’m an aeroplane”.  The stranger then gave a brilliant sound-imitation of a Spitfire being started up, flying and landing.  Algy asks the man’s name and is told it is Cuthbert Mooney, year of birth 1921, educated Harrow – occupation, inventor. Cuthbert says at school he was called Looney Mooney.  A message arrives for Mooney to see the C.O. and he leaves to the sounds of a two-stroke motor-cycle.  A call arrives for Algy, telling him that Cuthbert is to be posted to his flight and Algy is to show him the coast this afternoon.  After lunch, Algy goes to the flight hanger to find Cuthbert making some adjustments to his machine and he asks Algy to come and see his new device for keeping Huns off his tail.  Algy tells him that in this squadron when we see Huns we go for them – we don’t turn out tails to them. Algy says they will fly alone the coast but not go over the water and Cuthbert is to keep close to Algy whatever happens.  The plan is for Cuthbert to pick up as many landmarks as he can.  They fly for an hour and Algy starts to edge over the Channel.  Cuthbert draws Algy’s attention to some planes in the distance and Algy is pleased with his watchfulness and ‘spotting’ ability.  But then they see a loan Junkers 88 and Cuthbert goes after it.  Algy should have turned for home, in which case Cuthbert would no doubt have followed, but caught up in his enthusiasm, Algy goes after it as well.  However, Algy’s engine then develops a vibration and the revolution indicator falls back.  Algy is forced to turn back.  Cuthbert eventually turns and follows him but he is a good two miles behind.  Algy sees they are both being followed by a formation of twelve Messerschmitt 109’s.  Algy dives steeply but he can see that Cuthbert will be caught first and there is nothing he can do.  “The knowledge that Cuthbert would think he was running away brought a flush to his cheeks but he could do nothing.  Never had he felt so utterly helpless.  How was Cuthbert to know that his engine had packed up?”  They are practically over the coast-line as the Messerschmitts roar in to deliver the knock-out blow, when Algy sees a streak of orange fire, spurt backwards from Cuthbert’s machine.  There is then a second spurt.  The Messerschmitts swerve wildly in confusion and two of them collide.  Two more streamers of fire and smoke hurtle aft from Cuthbert’s machine and the Messerschmitts give up the pursuit.  Algy finds a field where he can land, but he notices that Cuthbert’s Spitfire is acting curiously and Cuthbert’s engine is cutting out.  Cuthbert crash lands in the field, his undercarriage is swept off in a cloud of mud and grass and the Spitfire bounces high into the air, stalls and drives nose first into the ground.  Algy lands and runs towards Cuthbert’s steaming Spitfire.  Troops arrive and help Algy get the unconscious Cuthbert out before the plane goes up in flames.  He comes round and says they got him through the legs.  An ambulance arrives and a doctor tells them that the wounds are not serious. Algy asks what the gadget was and Cuthbert tells him it was rockets that shoot behind him.  “I’ll show you how it works when I come back from hospital”.  Cuthbert does his elbow and fist sound on the side of the ambulance. Clonk-clonk.

“Two to Waterloo,” grinned Cuthbert.


This chapter was originally a story spread over four pages – with illustrations – from issue number 338 of “The Modern Boy” (week ending 28th July 1934) entitled “Biggles and the Mad Hatter!”.  The story was collected in “Biggles in France” and published by the Boys’ Friend Library in issue number 501 dated 7th November 1935 as two chapters entitled “The Human Railway” and “Orange Fire”.  The differences in the original story are these.  Firstly, the original story was a First World War story rather than a Second World War story.  It starts with “one of the most characteristic features of flying during the Great War was the manner in which humour and tragedy so often went hand in hand.  At noon a practical joke might set the officers’ mess rocking with mirth; by sunset or perhaps within the hour, the perpetrator of it would be gone for ever, fallen to an unmarked grave in the shell-holes of No-Man’s-Land”.  Set at 266 Squadron, Maranique, it was of course, originally Biggles in the “Algy” role.  The new pilot was originally Clarence Forbes and, on his arrival, he cries in a shrill Cockney voice “Passing Down Street and Hyde Park Corner!” as he does a tube train impression and “Any more for Esher, Walton, Weybridge, Byfleet or Woking?”.  The elbow and fist strike on the table is described as a “clonk, clonk-er, clonk, clonk-er” noise and preceded by “Two to Waterloo!”  It is Biggles, not Tug who is irritated and asks if Forbes thinks he is a railway.  The aircraft impression done is a Camel, not a Spitfire. Clarence’s date of birth is 1894.  Forbes says that most people call him “The Mad Hatter”.  When “Mr. Bigglesworth” is called to the phone, he is told to show Forbes “the line” this afternoon (rather than Algy showing Cuthbert “the coast”).  The story then precedes exactly as above, although the lone German plane is an Aviatik and the attacking German planes are Albatrosses.  It ends with Forbes crashing in the field and saying “Two to Waterloo!”