BIGGLES – AIR ACE
by Captain W. E. Johns
(Page references are for the paperback first edition, followed by the hardback second).
V. THE FLEDGLINGS (Pages 82 – 98/Pages 80 – 95)
This story was originally published in “The New Book of the Air” in August 1935
Biggles returns from a flight and tells Smyth, his fitter, that “She’s inclined to be a bit left-wing low still; you might have a look at her”. On returning to the mess he hears the “restrained harmony of a Chopin nocturne” and finds a newcomer playing the piano. “I’m Lissy; I’ve been posted to your flight”. Biggles listens to him playing the piano until two other people arrive, Wilks, his old friend from 187 Squadron, and Taggart, a new man who has joined 187 Squadron today and is in Wilks’ flight. Taggart has come over to see “Sissy” as he calls Lissy. Biggles reprimands Taggart for this “in future, at least, in my hearing, you’ll remember his name”. Wilks tells Biggles that both Taggart and Lissy came to Wing Headquarters and he “took the best man”. “What makes you think you’ve got the best man?” asks Biggles. Wilks wants to bet his man will get more Huns. Biggles doesn’t like the idea but says “If that big calf of yours gets more Huns than my lad within a month from today, I’ll stand your Squadron dinner at the Hotel de Ville in Amiens – with wine. If he fails then you stand us dinner. How’s that?” “Done” agrees Wilks. Biggles turns to Lissy. “You heard that,” he said. “It means that you’ve got to get some Huns, my lad or this little interlude will cost me a month’s pay”. Three days later, Biggles is watching Lissy doing target practice over their aerodrome. Lissy is diving down in his Camel and shooting at a petrol-tin. Wilks arrives to say that Taggart has got his first Hun over Douai. Biggles admits that Lissy hasn’t even been over the lines yet, “We don’t send our lambs to the slaughter”. Biggles asks Lissy how many hours of flying he has had. The answer is eighteen hours at the aerodrome, which is double what he did at home. Biggles decides to take Lissy up to the lines. They see some German planes and Lissy immediately flies home. “Biggles also headed home, inwardly annoyed at Lissy’s behaviour, for although the new man had acted sensibly in avoiding a serious combat, his swift departure at first sight of the Fokkers set Biggles wondering if, after all, he had been mistaken in his estimate of his calibre”. Three S.E.s arrive and one of the Germans is shot down. The S.E.s land at Biggles’ aerodrome and Wilks is the pilot of the leading machine. He tells Biggles that “Taggart just got that Hun”. Wilks tells Lissy that he needs to buy himself a hot-water bottle – for his feet. Lissy doesn’t stand up for himself, but Smyth checks Lissy’s machine and sees that the main petrol tank has been holed and the rear of his machine is soaked with petrol. Biggles asks Lissy why he didn’t tell Wilks. “I’m sorry, Bigglesworth, but I’m not in the habit of making excuses,” replied Lissy quietly. By the end of a fortnight, Taggart has increased his score to three enemy aircraft shot down. Biggles speaks to Lissy and says that the fellows in their Squadron, 266, and also the 187 crowd are the best lads in the world. “Only one thing counts with them – the ability to get Huns. Nothing else matters, and when you get right down to brass tacks, they’re quite right. That’s what we’re here for”. Biggles offers to take Lissy over the lines in half an hour but Lissy takes off alone after five minutes. Biggles and Algy go after him and realise he’s heading for Douai, an area to be avoided by all except very strong patrols as you are likely to “barge into the middle of the Richthofen crowd”. In the distance, they see a “lone British machine” attacked by a swarm of Fokker Triplanes and then they see the now burning machine drop like a stone. “There he goes” says Biggles bitterly and he and Algy return to Maranique and tell ‘Wat’ Tyler, the Recording Officer to cross Lissy’s name off the role. Rather than mope around, Biggles goes with others to Amiens that night. When he returns he hears the piano playing a plaintive melody. Rushing into the mess, he finds Lissy. Lissy says his machine got shot up pretty badly and he had to crash land. But not before he got three Huns and he thinks he also forced another to land. Lissy explains that Taggart had rang him and challenged him to meet him over Douai to see him knock down some Huns. Taggart was in the British plane that Biggles saw shot down in flames. Wilks arrives to confirm that someone has got four Huns. Biggles says it was Lissy, but Wilks doesn’t believe it. Biggles shows him two photos he has as proof, where Lissy has flown up unseen on an S.E.5 aircraft and taken a picture. “I think you will agree that if Lissy had been a Hun, the pilot in the S.E. would never have known what killed him”. The pilot in the first picture is Taggart. When Wilks says “but Taggart was only a beginner” he is shown a second photograph. “Why,” he stammered, “I know that machine”. “You ought to,” Biggles told him grimly; “you were flying it”.
This story was re-written as a World War II story called “The Hare and the Tortoise” and published as the nineth and final short story in “Biggles Takes the Case”. In this version, the story is updated to World War II and the two pilots are Daby and Taggart. Taggart calls Daby “Baby”. Biggles is a Squadron-Leader as is Wilkinson, who is from 187 (Hurricane) Squadron. Biggles tells Daby that if he doesn’t get more Huns it will “spoil my bank account”. The planes they are flying are Spitfires and Taggart gets his first Messerschmitt over Calais. Daby hasn’t been over the Channel yet. When Daby flees for home with his petrol tank shot, Wilks doesn’t arrive to tease him in this version. When the lone Spitfire is shot down, it is “Tyler, the Adjutant” who is told to “take Daby’s name off the roster”. Biggles doesn’t return from Amiens in this version, but from Group HQ and finally Taggart rings Daby to invite him to Amiens.