BIGGLES – AIR ACE
by Captain W. E. Johns
(Page references are for the paperback first edition, followed by the hardback second).
IV. BIGGLES’ NIGHT OUT! (Pages 58 – 81/Pages 58 – 79)
This story was originally published in “Modern Boy” number 395 – dated 31.8.35
“Hallo, Fernwell! What brings you here?” Biggles, otherwise Captain Bigglesworth, of No. 266 Squadron, R.F.C., shook hands with the big Handley-Page pilot who had just landed in front of the sheds of the war-time aerodrome at Maranique, France”. The two men chat and Fernwell explains that No. 100 Squadron, is due to bomb Stuttgart tomorrow and they are short of experienced gunners. “I’d like to go on one of your bombing shows,” declares Biggles, “I’ve never done a trip in a Handley”. “Nothing doing,” replied Fernwell. “Our Old Man wouldn’t hear of it – and neither would yours, if it comes to that. You know the order about pilots flying together. It takes so long to train them that they can’t afford to lose three or four at a time”. Biggles talks Fernwell into it. “If we’re rumbled, we shall all be court-martialled” says Fernwell. “At the worst they can only shoot us, and we’re likely to be shot one day, anyway” says Biggles. The following night, Biggles and Algy fly their Camels down to Morville, where they meet Fernwell and his second pilot and navigator, Jameson. After dinner, they all set off on the night raid. Biggles mans the front gun and Algy the gun in the rear cockpit. Biggles sees a cloud of tiny red sparks in the distance. “For a moment or two he could not make out what they were, and then realised with a mild shock that it was his old enemy, archie”. “He quickly decided that he liked the bursts much better in the smoky form in which they appeared by day”. The plane suddenly swerves as Fernwell avoids a near collision with a German machine. Next they are caught in the glare of a searchlight. Shells burst all around them. Biggles fires his gun down the beam until the light suddenly goes out. However, the port engine on their aircraft is dead. Biggles crawls back to the pilot’s cockpit and speaks with Jameson. He is told that Fernwell will attempt to return to the British lines but that they are losing height fast and they can’t drop their bomb load either, as the toggle cable has been cut by archie. Biggles crawls towards the back of the plane but finds that releasing the bombs manually is impossible. He then continues on down the fuselage and tells Algy about their predicament. The plane goes lower and lower as Fernwell tries to land in a field but he hits the telegraph wires. “There was a ghastly, tearing, rending crash, and the machine seemed to fold up around them”. All four crew members get out as they listen to the sound of petrol dripping; then the plane catches fire. They retreat to a safe distance. “Have you got any idea where we are, Fernie?” asks Biggles. “We were about twenty five miles inside the Hun lines when we hit the ground” is the reply. Cars arrive and German officers and troops surround the burning plane. The bombs on the plane explode. “The blazing aeroplane had vanished! Over the spot where it had been a rain of fiery debris was falling from the sky”. “Well, that’s that!” observed Biggles. “It’s no use weeping about it. We went out to bomb the Huns, and the Huns have been bombed; that’s all there is to it”. Biggles takes one of the German cars, a big open touring car. They have a map and drive to Offenburg some ten miles along the road and then on to Basle on the Swiss frontier, some sixty miles away. Biggles plans to run along the frontier and then to try to cross at Lake Constance, by boat. Biggles puts on an officer’s coat, knowing that if he is caught wearing it, he will be shot. “Still, it’s neck or nothing now”. Driving to Lake Constance without serious incident, the four airmen find a house with a motor-boat in a boathouse at the bottom of the garden. Fernwell can drive a motor boat as he used to have one before the war. They break in and steal the boat, but make a great deal of noise, particularly when starting the boat up. On the lake they meet another boat coming in the opposite direction, but it has to turn to chase them. “For a few minutes it was touch and go, and the airmen could be accounted lucky, for the engine broke down while they were still a hundred yards from the Swiss shore. But the boat had plenty of way, and they just reached the shore, although they had to wade the last few yards”. They hire the first car they see to take them to the nearest British consul. Two days later they are back at Morville in France. Fernwell asks Biggles if he would rather be flown back to his aerodrome in a Handley. “Not on your life,” says Biggles. “I’m sticking to my Camel in future”.