by Captain W. E. Johns



VIII.                 THE CASE OF THE MYSTERIOUS GUNSHOTS  (Pages 153 – 173)

This story was originally published in THE GOLDEN BOOK OF COMICS (1950) by Odhams Press Ltd and ran from pages 188 to 200 in that book.  A comparison of the text reveals that it was significantly shorter than the version in Biggles Takes the Case.  Again, I believe that Johns has added text to the later book version.  Johns wrote this story in 1949 and appears to have been inspired by a photograph he saw of elephants (presumably the one he describes Biggles as possessing in the story).  He sent the photo to his agent in November 1949 to be forwarded to the illustrator of the Golden Book of Comics, Geoffrey Whittam, who did indeed illustrate an aerial shot of elephants for the story.  This summary also points out some of the changes between the original version and the version in this first edition book.


“Air Commodore Raymond finished his monthly inspection of the Air Police equipment and returned with Biggles to the Operations Room, followed by the pilots of the Department”.  (The Golden Book inserts “followed by Ginger, Algy and Bertie, the pilots of the department”).  Raymond jokingly says “All you need now is something to do”.  He then asks Biggles if he fancies a run out to Africa.  (When Biggles replies, his sarcastic line “Africa, as I remember it, is a biggish sort of place” is not in the Golden Book).  Raymond says he has had a complaint from the Colonial Office (no mention of that in the Golden Book) about something that began a couple of months ago.  A native of the Karuli tribe walked into the hospital at Khartoum “with an arm in such a state that even the doctors were nearly sick”.  (In the Golden Book, this line read “with an arm in a terrible state”).  It had been shattered by a bullet, turned septic and had to be amputated.  The man complained that he had been shot at from an aeroplane for no reason at all; sprayed with machine-gun bullets.  Biggles asks where this has happened and is told “In the Southern Soudan (this is how it is spelt by Johns in Biggles Takes the Case.  In the Golden Book, it is “Southern Sudan”) – on the fringe of the Sudd”.  Biggles is aware of the Sudd, which stretches from Khartoum to Malakal, having flown over it.  “There can’t be less than ten thousand square miles of it.  It’s all one vast swamp – bog, weed, mud, rushes and matted vegetation”.  The next incident was Captain Stonehouse of the Sudan (this is how it is now spelt by Johns in Biggles Takes the Case) Police having to deal with hostile natives complaining of being shot at in the Sudd.  They were nothing to do with the first victim.  “Their villages are at least a hundred miles apart”.  Stonehouse hung about for a week to investigate and twice heard distance machine-gun fire and he thought he heard an aero-engine.  Biggles refers to “a photograph I once saw.  It was taken by a fellow who made one of the first flights down Africa.  He flew over the Sudd – in fact, he was probably the first man to see the place from the air”.  (Johns has obviously seen such a photograph as he sent it to his literary agent to pass on to the illustrator of the story for the Golden Book).  Biggles asks how many machines have recently disappeared or force-landed in the Sudd?  Raymond has already checked and says the answer is two.  An air liner on the regular run to the Cape had to make a forced landing and became stuck in the mud.  The passengers were rescued but the plane itself is still there.  The other was a German Storch flown by two German pilots, Brund and Heckel, that has disappeared between Khartoum and Malakal and the pilots have disappeared.  Biggles says he will “slip along and look over the ground” himself.  The Air Commodore leaves and Gingers points an accusing finger.  “You’re holding out on us”, he challenged “What about this photo you mentioned?  What was on it?”  (In the Golden Book the line from Ginger is just “What about this photo you mentioned?  What was on it?).  Biggles goes to his filing cabinet and in a manila jacket labelled ‘Africa’ he produces a photograph.  “It was an aerial shot, taken with an oblique camera from perhaps five hundred feet, of such a herd of elephants ….. there were hundreds, some of them majestic tuskers”.  Biggles says that “by the latter half of the nineteenth century elephants were being so persecuted by ivory hunters that they withdrew into one of the few natural sanctuaries that remained in Africa – the Sudd.  There, not even the hunters could follow them, so they were able to settle down and multiply in peace”.  (In the Golden Book, there is an added line “Since then it has been a protected area”).    Biggles says one man bought a plane to shoot them from the air but was stopped by the authorities.  “Quite right!” burst out Bertie.  “Only an absolute bounder would think of shooting grand beasts like that from the air”.  (This and significant other parts of the dialogue are not in the Golden Book).  Biggles says they will take the two Proctors and start tomorrow morning.  A week later, they are at Khartoum, where they are invited to lunch by the officer commanding the R.A.F. station.  Biggles discusses the object of his trip and is told that the wreck of the Nestorian Air Liner is something of a landmark in the Sudd, but it now looks as if someone has landed there.  It is possible to do that at certain times of the year, at the height of the dry season, such as now.  The wing-commander they are lunching with also says that there has been a lot of native activity in the Sudd and he thinks they are “having a go at the elephant” as the herds have scattered.  Biggles is taken to the map room and shown where the crash lies.  Within two hours, Biggles is flying over the crash site and he lands on a makeshift runway that has already been made in the dry rushes.  Biggles and Ginger land, whilst Algy remains flying above them, and they discover that instruments have been salvaged from the wreck and petrol has been taken.  Someone is using the wreck to refuel.  Biggles and Ginger travel on foot some half a mile from the wreck to where Biggles had earlier noticed an elephant carcass. The tusks have been hacked out.  (This is the pen and ink illustration at the beginning of the story on page 154).  Biggles says “I’d wager that poor old fellow’s rusks (a typo in the book but not in the Golden Book) weighed seventy or eighty pounds apiece.  They’d be too big to get in a light plane, and too cumbersome.  Hence the native porters.  The poor beasts are shot from the air, plastered with machine-gun bullets apparently.  What a sickening business!”  (That last line does not appear in the Golden Book).  Taking off again, Biggles follows the trail left by the natives who have recovered the ivory.  Numerous trails run from elephant carcasses and come together.  “Elephants were sometimes seen, always in small groups that stampeded as the aircraft approached.  Which, as Biggles remarked grimly, was a clear indication of the manner in which they had been harassed.  Normally, wild animals soon learn that they have nothing to fear from an aircraft”.  (That quote is merely one of many that do not appear in the Golden Book).  Reaching the eastern extreme of the great swamp, split by a conspicuous gorge, Biggles decides to land.  He firstly has Ginger send a signal to Khartoum to pin-point the location and “say we’re going down”.  He also tells Ginger to signal to Algy to follow them down when they land.  Biggles and Algy both land their aircraft.  Bertie is told to stay with the machines to guard them.  Biggles, Algy and Ginger enter the gorge and, drawn by a murmur of voices, soon find the Storch aircraft.  It is parked by a tree trunk stacked up with elephant tusks.  Ginger, following Biggles instructions, turns on the tap of the main tank to drain the fuel from the aircraft.  They find a tent with three white men out front.  Two young and one a good deal older.  Biggles just walks up to them and says “I’m a policeman, and you’re under arrest for poaching ivory in a prohibited area”.  The older man identifies himself as Paul Loezer, an Afrikander.  He says these boys have told him they have found much ivory, but having seen it, he has told them that he will not touch it because he does not break the law.  He says he lives at Mogada and Biggles commissions him on behalf of the Government to take the ivory there.  Brund and Heckel both run away, but not before one of them snatches Loezer’s rifle and tries to fire it at Biggles, only to find the breech empty.  Biggles asks Ginger and Algy to go after them.  The natives are Murloos and they are in a nearby camp.  Loezer says “They’re good boys.  I know them.  They do not understand this poaching”.  Biggles ask Loezer to explain things to them.  Biggles then hears the Storch start up and take off.  Algy and Ginger return to say that they couldn’t stop the two men, they both had automatics and they held them off whilst they started the Storch.  Biggles says they can’t get far.  Without fuel, the Storch stalls and the undercarriage catches in the rushes and the machine somersaults.  The aircraft bursts into flames.  Biggles says “We’d better get out of this ourselves.  That fire is travelling fast, and it’s moving towards the place where we parked our machines.  There’s nothing more we can do here anyway.  We might as well go home”.