by Captain W. E. Johns



IX.                   THE COWARD  (Pages 162 – 182)


“The normal duties of Number 666 Squadron consisted of intercepting enemy daylight raiders, and it may have been largely due to Biggles’s leadership that no casualties occurred before they did; but by late autumn the strain of long hours at the tremendous altitude at which battles were fought was beginning to tell.  Nutty Armand went to hospital with a bullet through his foot, and Tex O’Hara, to his disgust, was kept on the ground, by the M.O.’s orders, with a wrenched shoulder sustained in collision with a tree while trying to bring his Spitfire down after its lateral controls had been shot away.  Added to this, three airmen had been injured by bomb splinters when a deliberate dive-bombing attack had been made on the aerodrome during the absence of the machines”.  “On the other hand, Cuthbert had returned from hospital and to bring the squadron up to strength came Henry Harcourt”.  Harcourt is a “weedy youth with a thin, pale face and thoughtful grey eyes.  He goes to see Biggles and asks, in a rather flowery way, if he can keep a pig in a pigsty on the aerodrome and feed it on squadron leftovers.  A pig is obtained and called “Annie”.  One morning Biggles hears laughter and finds the pig has been painted with “the red, white, and blue ring markings such as are carried by service aircraft” (I believe this is called a national cockade in the form of a roundel) so that if the pig escapes people will know where she belongs.  Biggles assigns Henry to A Flight and tells him to keep close to him.  A large enemy formation is encountered and with the help of Hurricanes of 701 Squadron, it is broken up.  Five enemy machines are shot down, two falling to Biggles’s guns.  Back at base, Biggles speaks to Harcourt and says he noticed that he “did not quite pull your weight” as Harcourt was on the outskirts of the dogfight.  Biggles tells him that if he feels he is not quite up to it, Harcourt should tell him.  Biggles sends Ginger to have a word with Harcourt to give him some gentle encouragement.  Ginger finds Harcourt face down on his bed and he tells Ginger that he “funked it”.  Harcourt admits that when the guns started, he was afraid.  Ginger says he was as well.  The following morning, Harcourt reports sick with toothache.  Eight Spitfires, including Biggles, go out to take on the approaching enemy bombers and fighter escort approaching the Thames Estuary.  At least twenty Messerschmitts attack them.  “To describe in detail the battle that now ensued would necessarily involve much repetition.  Words, too, would lag behind the speed of the action”.  “The fight went on.  It was the most bitterly contested in all Biggles’s experience, machines of both sides hurtling round and round at frenzied speed, sometimes missing each other by inches, neither side giving way”.  Biggles sees a remarkable sight.  A Spitfire appears a thousand feet above the German bombers and then it dives vertically down like a torpedo, straight towards the middle of the bomber formation.  (The Spitfire stood vertically on its nose and went down like a torpedo – is the illustration on page 177).  Biggles thinks the pilot is either dead or unconscious as no sane pilot would behave in such a way.  The Spitfire pulls out of its dive and shoots up again like a rocket.  Biggles concludes the pilot is mad.  German machines skid away and the formation is in confusion.  When the bombers try to fire, they risk firing at each other.  “One bomber turned away and started gliding down; another followed it, smoke pouring from its tail.  The crew toppled out like ripe apples dropping off a tree”.  The unknown Spitfire again come tearing through the middle of the enemy machines and misses Biggles by inches.  Twelve Hurricanes and a further seven Spitfires arrive to help turn the tide of the battle.  The German bombers unload their bombs and turn for home.  Back at their home aerodrome, Algy asks Biggles if he saw the crazy Spitfire.  Biggles laughs.  “There must have been forty bombers in that mob, and he scattered them like a dog barging into a flock of sheep”.  A badly damaged Spitfire comes in to land, riddled with bullet holes.  Biggles recognises it as Harcourt’s machine and asks who is flying it?  “Henry got out – or rather fell out.  He staggered about for a bit like a sailor thrown out of a grog shop”.  Biggles is astonished and asks Henry what came over him.  Henry shows him a deep round hole where the pigsty was.  A German dive bomber has attacked the aerodrome and killed Annie the pig.  Henry has now sworn revenge and wants to shoot down every Hun out of the sky.  It is at this point that a farmer arrives.  He has found a pig on his adjourning farm and seeing the painted marks on the pig concluded it must belong to the aerodrome.  In the back of his vehicle is Annie the pig, alive and well.


This chapter was originally a story spread over four pages – with illustrations – from issue number 289 of “The Modern Boy” (week ending 19th August 1933) entitled “The Funk!”.  The story was collected in “Biggles of the Camel Squadron” and published by John Hamilton in March 1934.  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.  Biggles has to train three new pilots called Harcourt, Howell and Sylvester.  Harcourt wants to get ant eggs to feed a goldfish that he has won at the fair at Amiens and named Percy.  Biggles spends some time training them and after four days they go over the lines with Biggles and Algy.  When engaged in combat, Harcourt turns his aircraft and flees for their home aerodrome.  Sylvester is shot down and badly wounded.  Back at base Harcourt admits he was scared and says he can’t fly again.  A German Fokker D.VII flies over and drops a pair of boots – an insult meaning they should join the infantry.  Biggles in a fit of rage takes off and flies after the plane, taking Algy and Howell with him.  Biggles is surprised to see that Harcourt’s aircraft has followed them.  The German flies off and joins eight of his comrades and a dogfight ensues with the four British planes taking on the nine German planes.  “Kill or be killed was the motto of to-day!”.  Two Fokkers collide.  A camel goes down in a sheet of flame.  Another Fokker sheds its wings as it pulls up.  A Sopwith Camel chases the Fokker that dropped the boots with fury, trying to ram it and eventually shooting it down.  Biggles thinks it must be Algy, but of course, it turns out to be Harcourt.  The remaining five Fokkers flee.  Algy has been shot down but is unharmed.  It was Howell who went down in flames.  The reason why Harcourt has gone fighting mad is that the dropped boots went through the roof of his hut and killed his goldfish, Percy.  With regard to the painting of aircraft roundels on the pig, this is based on a true story.  The Canadian air ace, Billy Bishop, and his colleagues painted British red, white and blue roundels on some ducks and German aircraft markings was painted on a large sow.