by Captain W. E. Johns



VIII.                 THE LOVE SONG  (Pages 138 – 161)


Squadron Leader Bigglesworth lands his Spitfire.  “She’s still inclined to fly a bit left wing low,” he told the sergeant rigger, as he shed his parachute and walked over to the office.  There he meets Air Commodore Raymond of Air Intelligence who tells him, that he, Raymond, is in a mess.  Raymond confirms that Biggles knows Amiens and the country around it pretty well.  He asks Biggles if he knows the little church in the Rue Ste Marie – just behind the Hotel de Ville and Biggles confirms he does.  Raymond says he wants Biggles to go there.  There is a man called Marcel Bregard, formerly a designed with the Rhone Aviation Company, who was working on a special supercharger for radial engines and he took the plans to prevent them from falling into German hands.  Bregard has had the misfortune to be knocked down by a motorcycle and had his leg broken.  He managed to crawl to a girl he knows called Rene, who runs a little tobacco business at number 1 Rue Ste Marie, next door to the church.  Biggles asks Raymond how he knows this and he is told that a British Tommy called Corporal Price was cut off in the town and Rene hid him in her cellar.  Price had planned to get Bregard out but was captured and sent to Germany, where he jumped off a train, pinched a bike and got to Spain and from there, home.  Biggles asks how long is it since he left Amiens and he is told three weeks.  “Anything could have happened in that time” says Biggles.  Biggles is told there is a password, that Rene, Price and Bregard used to use.  It’s a popular French song that goes:-

Parlez moi d’armour

Redites-moi des choses tendres

(Which ‘Google’ translates as “Tell me about love; Tell me again tender things”)

“Biggles stared at the astonishing spectacle of an Air Commodore crooning.  His mouth twitched in a smile of frank incredulity”.  Biggles translates the first line of the song as “Speak to me of love”, his lip curling in a sneer.  “What gave you the idea that I cluttered up my brain with that sort of stuff?”   Biggles asks why the Air Commodore has picked on him for this task.  He is told is it is because he speaks German and French and can fly an aeroplane.  “There’s no other way of getting in and out of France!” says Raymond, who asks if Biggles will have a shot at it.  “You know perfectly well that I can’t say no,” answered Biggles quietly.  He is asked to go that night.  When Raymond has gone, Biggles plots a course to a field he knows well as he had once made a forced landing on it.  Biggles tells Toddy he is going to practice a little night flying and will set off at 10.00 pm.  Biggles leaves and Toddy notices the map with a thin pencil line on it.  It was in fact, shortly after 10.00 pm when Biggles left the ante-room and went to his quarters.  He dresses in a light raincoat of civilian pattern then goes to his Spitfire.  Flight Sergeant Smyth tells him he has lightened the plane as much as he can and the fuel tanks are only half full.  “She should glide a long way for every thousand feet of height”.  Biggles flies off and crosses the coast at Hastings.  He is at twenty-five thousand feet breathing oxygen when he cuts his engine and begins a long glide.  He follows the River Somme until he picks up a poplar lined road and lands in a large field just north of the town.  For a quarter of an hour Biggles sits on the edge of the cockpit in case he has been seen.  Then he turns his plane by hand.  He did this by “lifting the tail-unit and carried it around so that the nose was pointing to the longest run the field could provide”.  (Is that possible?  An empty Spitfire weighed over 4500 pounds, which is well over 2000 kgs.  A Sopwith Camel was around 420 kg in comparison).  Biggles walks to the trees and to the main road and on into town.  Here he is stopped by a loan German and asked for his pass as he is out during curfew which began at 10.00 pm.  Biggles hits the man on the head with the butt of his heavy service automatic and “the man flopped to the ground like a suit of clothes from a hook”.  Biggles hides him and walks on “regretting the incident, but feeling that he had no alternative but to act as he had done”.  Biggles makes his way to the ‘Tabac’ shop by the church and knocks on the door.  A German soldier answers the door and Biggles asks in French for Mademoiselle Rene, saying he is a relation.  A girl emerges and Biggles sings the song “Parlez moi d’amour”.  Out of earshot of the others, Biggles says he is a friend of Corporal Price and he wants to see Marcel Bregard.  Biggles says he has come at great risk to fetch the plans.  Rene says she has four “Boche” soldiers billeted with her and Marcel is having supper with them now.   Biggles is invited in and introduced as Rene’s cousin.  He says he is not staying and is soon told to wait outside until Rene can get to speak to Marcel in private.  Biggles waits until gone midnight and is anxious about his aircraft being discovered.  Eventually a window opens and he is thrown a package – the plans!  Biggles returns to the field where he landed his aircraft, but by now it is shrouded in dense fog.  He hears voices talking in French and sees two French peasants loom up in the mist.  (‘We found the machine and didn’t know what to make of it,’ he explained – is the illustration on page 157).  Biggles tells them to go away and forget what they have seen.  The two men insist on shaking his hand and then fade into the mist.  Biggles has to wait for the fog to begin to lift but when he hears voices near at hand, he opens the throttle and for a thousand feet roars blindly through the all-enveloping murk.  Suddenly he is in clear blue air as he takes off.  Nearing the coast, Messerschmitts appear and overhaul him rapidly.  Biggles knows that eventually he will have to turn and fight them.  “His only sensation was one of annoyance that he had so far succeeded in his mission only to be thwarted at the last moment, for he did not persuade himself that he could fight a dozen Messerschmitts single-handed and get away with it”.  Suddenly, the Messerschmitts veer away as nine Spitfires arrive – it’s Biggles’s Squadron!  They fall into place behind him as he leads them home.  Raymond is waiting to be given the plans.  Biggles asks Algy how they knew where he had gone.  “Ask Sherlock,” grinned Algy, pointing at Toddy.  (Obviously, this is a reference to the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1859 – 1930).  “He’s the man who found the map you plotted your course on”.


This would appear to be a completely unique story.  I cannot find a First World War story like this.  Of course, there are a number of stories when Biggles is sent on a secret mission by Raymond set in the First World War.  “The Packet” springs to mind as the one most similar.  This was the second story from ‘The Camels are Coming’ first published in the May 1932 issue of ‘Popular Flying’.  In that story the plans Biggles are sent to collect are stuffed down a rabbit hole.  On the way home, Biggles is attacked by Fokkers but his colleagues in their Sopwith Camels come to his rescue (although not because of any pencil marks on a map).  If anything, this story would be a rewrite of that but with a more exciting middle section.  The fact that Biggles lifts the plane up by the tail skid to turn it around would seem to indicate a rewritten First World War story, as you could do that to a Sopwith Camel.  Interestingly, the moving of the aircraft by its tail skid is not actually something that happens in “The Packet”.