by Captain W. E. Johns



IX.           THE HARE AND THE TORTOISE  (Pages 175 – 189)

This story was originally a First World War story published in THE NEW BOOK OF THE AIR in 1935 where it ran from page 19 to page 30.  It was later re-written as a Second World War story and published in EVERY BOY’S ANNUAL in 1950 by Juvenile Productions Ltd, where it was subtitled “An incident from the Battle of Britain records of No. 666 (Fighter) Squadron, R.A.F., sometimes known as “Biggles” Squadron”.  It ran from pages 16 to 25 in that book.  This summary points out differences between the original version of the re-written story in EVERY BOY’S ANNUAL and the version in Biggles Takes the Case.  It then points out the differences between the First World War version of the story and the Second World War version of the story.  I don’t know when this re-write was done but Johns’ literary agent received the story from him on 8th February 1950.  The setting of Rawlham in Kent is a fictional location. 


“Squadron Leader Bigglesworth landed on his home airfield at Rawlham, in Kent” (in Every Boy’s Annual, this reads “Squadron Leader Bigglesworth, more often known as Biggles”, landed on his home airfield at Rawlham, in Kent”).  Flight-Sergeant Smyth tells Biggles that everyone is back, but most of the officers have gone to Tonbridge.  As Biggles walks to the mess, he hears a Chopin nocturne being played on the piano and he walks in to find a new officer called Daby, “a slight pale youth with fair hair”, who has just been posted to the squadron.  Daby asks Biggles if he got a Messerschmitt.  Biggles smiled faintly.  “No.  But one nearly got me”.  Biggles asks Daby to continue playing and Biggles relaxes for half an hour.  To his annoyance, he is disturbed by a “heavily built young man who carried the slim ring of a pilot officer on his sleeve” and a squadron-leader.  The pilot officer says he has come over to see “Baby” referring to Daby.  “We called him Baby at the Depot”.  Biggles reprimands the man.  “I’m not concerned with what you called him at the Depot, but Pilot Officer Daby happens to have been posted to this squadron, so, in my hearing, at any rate, you’ll remember his name.  Do you understand?”.  “Here, go easy Biggles” says the squadron leader who is Biggles old friend Wilks, or Squadron Leader Wilkinson of number 187 (Hurricane) Squadron.  Wilks introduces his new man, Taggart.  Biggles says he doesn’t like his manners.  Wilks says he chose Taggart in preference to Daby.  “Naturally I took the best man”.  “What gave you the idea you’ve got the best man?” asks Biggles.  Wilks says he is willing to bet that his man “knocks down more enemy aircraft than yours during the next month”.  Biggles doesn’t think it is a nice thing to bet on, but he does agree to buy dinner for Wilks at any place he cares to name if Taggart gets more Huns than Daby within a month from today.  Wilks and Taggart leave.  Three days later, Biggles watches Daby in a Spitfire, diving and machine gunning a petrol can.  Daby lands and Biggles tells him there are seven holes in the can.  Daby says he fired ten bursts of about ten rounds each.  Biggles says it is not bad.  Wilks lands in his Hurricane and tells Biggles that Taggart has got his first Messerschmitt over Calais this morning.  Wilks is surprised to hear that Daby hasn’t been over the Channel yet.  Biggles says Daby wasn’t ready.  Wilks says Taggart is going over twice a day.  “I don’t send my lambs to the slaughter” says Biggles.  Wilks gets in his plane and leaves.  Biggles asks Daby how much flying time he has logged.  The answer is about eighteen hours.  “I’ve done a fair bit with the camera-gun, too, practising on our own machines, and some Hurricanes, as you suggested”.  Biggles says he will look at the shots sometime and says he is going to take Daby over the Channel.  “You stick close to my tail”. They take off in two Spitfires, and soon face anti-aircraft batteries.  When Biggles heads towards a dogfight, he finds that Daby has gone.  Biggles sees him racing for the English coast.  Biggles returns to base and asks Daby “Why did you beat it for home as I headed for that scramble?”  Daby replies with his own question.  “Do you think I ran away?”  “It looks mightily like it, didn’t it?” replies Biggles.  “Yes, I suppose it did” says Daby and he walks away.  Biggles then discovers that there is a big hole in Daby’s Spitfire and the floor is swimming with petrol.  He had been hit by flak and was lucky not to catch fire.  Biggles goes to see Daby and asks him why he didn’t tell him.  “I hate making excuses, sir,” returned Daby stiffly.  Biggles then sees a signal from Wilkinson saying that Taggart has “got another Hun”.  By the end of a fortnight, Taggart has got three enemy aircraft.  Daby has still not fired a shot at a hostile machine, even though he had been over France several times.  Biggles “had more than once been ragged by members of the Hurricane squadron about his backward pupil”.  He takes Daby aside and tells him “Listen, laddie, you’ll soon have to be doing something about it”.  Biggles offers to go over to France with Daby that afternoon.  Five minutes later, Biggles sees Daby’s Spitfire take off on his own and head south.  Biggles goes after him and Algy goes with him.  In due course, Biggles sees a loan Spitfire in the distance attacked by a big formation of Messerschmitt 109’s and be shot down.  “There he goes,” muttered Biggles grimly.  Sick at heart he turned for home.  Back at base, Biggles is told there is a signal from Group.  “The old man wants to see you”.  Biggles has to leave and doesn’t return until nearly midnight.  He is then astonished to hear the Chopin melody on the piano again.  Sitting at the piano is Daby!  Daby wasn’t shot down.  His Spitfire has been badly shot up and he has had to leave it at Dover, he says.  Biggles asks if Daby got a Hun.  Daby replies “I got three, sir, to be precise.  I think I forced another to land, but I’m not sure”.  Biggles asks why he went off without him.  The response is that Taggart had rang Daby that morning and invited Daby to go to Amiens with him “to see him put down some Messerschmitts”.  Daby says he could hardly refuse.  “I felt that the honour of the squadron was at stake, as well as my own”.  It was Taggart’s Spitfire that Biggles saw shot down.  Squadron Leader Wilkinson arrives and announces that “Taggart’s had it”.  Biggles says he knows, he saw it.  Wilkinson says it must have been Biggles that “shot down those three Messers”.  Biggles says it wasn’t him, it was Daby.  He says Daby went without his permission but was fit to go.  “I don’t believe it” says Wilks.  Biggles says he can prove it.  He takes some photographs out of an envelope, taken with a camera gun of a Hurricane.  “I think you will agree that if Daby had been a Hun the pilot of that Hurricane would never have known what killed him” says Biggles.  Wilkinson says the photograph is of Taggart’s machine and Taggart was a beginner.  Daby wouldn’t have been able to do that to an old hand.  Biggles has another photo to show Wilkinson, who says “I know that machine”.  “You ought to,” Biggles told him grimly, “You were flying it”.


This story was originally a 12 page story – with illustrations – from THE NEW BOOK OF THE AIR published in 1935 by the Oxford University Press.  It is rather strange that the story should be collected in “Biggles Takes the Case” (1952) as it is somewhat out of place with the air-police stories.  It would obviously have been better if the story had been updated and collected in “Spitfire Parade (1941) but it may very well be the case that Johns did not do the re-write until 1950.  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 at 266 Squadron, R.F.C. at Maranique, in France.  The aircraft are Sopwith Camels and not Spitfires.  Biggles lands and speaks with “Smyth, his fitter”.  The officers have gone to Amiens rather than Tonbridge.  On hearing the same Chopin music, the newcomer is not called Daby but Lissy.  The annoying new arrival is still called Taggart and he says he has come to see “Sissy”.  Taggart is with Captain Wilkinson of 187 Squadron, which is a squadron equipped with S.E.5 aircraft.  The bet between Biggles and Wilks is for the loser to stand dinner for the winner at the Hotel de Ville in Amiens – with wine.  Wilks flies a S.E.5 rather than a Hurricane.  The discussions are about going over “the lines” (the two opposing trenches) rather than the Channel.  Taggart gets his first Hun over Douai.  When Lissy apparently flees and returns to his home aerodrome, in this story, Wilkinson follows him home and tells him he better buy a hot-water bottle – for his feet (implying he had “cold feet”- slang for a loss of, or a lack of, courage or confidence).  Lissy says nothing, but his aircraft has a great, jagged hole caused by “archie” and is swimming with petrol.  Biggles asks him why he didn’t tell Wilks and he says he doesn’t make excuses.  When Lissy goes off on his own, Biggles and Algy follow.  “If he keeps on that course he’ll find himself over Douai before he knows where he is, and barge into the middle of the Richthofen crowd”.  Biggles goes off to Amiens after Lissy is apparently shot down and when he returns it is nearly midnight.  He hears the music playing and Lissy tells him he had to leave his aircraft at Chateau Rondeau (rather than Dover).  Lissy was invited to Douai by Taggart.  He felt Biggles’ honour was at stake (rather than the squadrons) as well as his own.  The story has the same ending, with Lissy having photographed Wilks S.E.5 rather than a Hurricane.  It would appear that Johns changed the name “Lissy” because he already had the character of Bertie Lissie serving at 666 Squadron in the Second World War stories.