The Chronological Order of the WW1 “Biggles” Stories
When W. E. Johns first wrote Biggles stories, he wasn’t expecting to write them for 36 years. He said as much himself. The first Biggles story, ‘The White Fokker’ was published on Wednesday 16th March 1932. Johns was still writing Biggles stories when he died on 21st June 1968. It can hardly be surprising if there was a lack of continuity in the stories over that period of time. In general, with regard to the Biggles stories as a whole, continuity is fairly good. I am going to look at the First World War flying stories in particular. I am going to attempt to put them in a chronological order.
One slight problem is that the stories have been republished with different names. I am taking all the names of stories from the first publication. A significant number of the First World War flying stories were published in “THE MODERN BOY”. When these stories were gathered together in ‘BIGGLES LEARNS TO FLY’ and ‘BIGGLES IN FRANCE’, the stories were named by reference to chapter headings. That simply has to be ignored. When stories were reprinted in “Biggles of 266” the names were changed. Don’t expect to see those story names here. It is always the original first story name that I refer to. That is the only way this can be done to avoid confusion.
No doubt Johns was surprised at the success of the early Biggles stories. When the first collection of 17 stories were published on 7th September 1932 as THE CAMELS ARE COMING, Johns clearly intended to conclude the Biggles World War flying stories. In the last story of that collection, appropriately entitled ‘The Last Show’, Biggles is shot down and captured and told that the Armistice has been signed and the war is over. That is without doubt, therefore, the last First World War flying story.
Later, when Johns wrote other First World War flying stories, they clearly had to be set before that story. Therefore the stories were not written in order – but in the absence of any other information, the order in which the stories was written is a good starting point for the order of the stories.
When Johns was writing stories about Biggles learning to fly, then clearly they are set at the very beginning of his aviation career. Where does everything else fit? Is it possible to find a logical order to the 65 First World War flying stories? To some extent, yes – but there are problems.
Firstly some things are easy. Biggles is serving at either 169 Squadron or 266 Squadron. Stories set at the former come before the latter. Biggles is initially flying a two seater F.E.2b. This is later upgraded to a two seater Bristol Fighter. He then moves to 266 Squadron and flies a Sopwith Pup. This is almost immediately upgraded to a Sopwith Camel. So the type of plane he is flying helps set the order to some extent. That said, most of the stories feature Biggles flying a Sopwith Camel. Biggles is an experienced battle hardened veteran, before his cousin Algy arrives at 266 Squadron. Stories set before and after Algy’s arrival help set some sort of continuity. However, a lot of stories set after Algy’s arrival simply don’t feature Algy, so having a story without Algy doesn’t really help.
What is a very significant factor in putting the First World War flying stories in order is the character of Raymond. In the first stories from THE CAMELS ARE COMING, he is COLONEL Raymond. In the early stories from BIGGLES LEARNS TO FLY, he is MAJOR Raymond. Working on the basis that Raymond advanced in rank from Major to Colonel and wasn’t demoted, then the rank of Raymond should be of great assistance in setting the order of the stories. There is a problem. Biggles meets Raymond “for the first time” twice. Once when he is a Colonel and once when he is a Major. In THE CAMELS ARE COMING, the second story, ‘The Packet’ has Biggles being introduced to Colonel Raymond by Major Mullen for the first time. “Captain Bigglesworth – Colonel Raymond,” began the C.O. “This is the officer I was telling you about, sir,” Biggles saluted and eyed the stranger curiously. The Colonel looked at him so long and earnestly that Biggles ran his mind swiftly over the events of the last few days, trying to recall some incident which might account for the senior officer’s presence”. When later stories were written that were set earlier in Biggles’ career, Johns clearly wanted to use the character of Raymond again. So he had to re-introduce him! In BIGGLES LEARNS TO FLY, the seventh story is ‘The Laughing Spy’. This story is set at 169 Squadron so Biggles’ commanding officer is Major Paynter. Biggles is asked to report to Paynter. “Just make sure the door is close, will you, Bigglesworth?” began the C.O. “Thanks. This is Major Raymond of Wing Headquarters”. “How do you do, sir?” said Biggles to the staff officer”. So of course, there is a large continuity error here. When Biggles met Raymond when he was a Colonel why did he not know him? It was a necessary plot device to get Raymond back into the stories that were set earlier and you just have to accept it. However, Raymond appears a lot in the First World War flying stories and Johns varies his rank between Colonel and Major all the time. For the purposes of continuity, it has to be assumed that the stories when he is a Major are set before those when he is a Colonel.
Talking about rank, there is then Biggles’ rank. In the first Biggles story, ‘The White Fokker’, although Biggles is an “acting Flight-Commander” he is not a Captain. He gets promoted to the rank of Captain in the stories. Twice. The second ever Biggles story opens with reference to “Biggles, newly appointed to Captain’s rank since his affair with the White Fokker”. However, when we start with the stories at the beginning of Biggles career he AGAIN gets promoted to Captain and this time we are told a different reason. In the book BIGGLES IN FRANCE, the sixth story is ‘Biggles and the Flying Camera’. This is a story where Biggles had made great efforts to shoot down a high flying German aircraft with a camera with a remarkable lens that had taken five years to make. Biggles does shoot the plane down, but the camera is destroyed. It is therefore somewhat surprising to read in the seventh story from that book, ‘Biggles’ Sky-High Spy’ reference to “Captain Bigglesworth (his promotion dated from his meritorious work in bringing down the camera-plane)”. For continuity purposes, the only conclusion is that he was promoted both for that and for shooting down ‘The White Fokker’ and hence those two stories are set very close together!
Other clues as to when stories are set are given to us in the text. Firstly there are the events of the war itself and historical fact. We know for example that the Royal Air Force was formed on 1st April 1918 by a merger of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. However, Johns never refers to this. Biggles always appears to be in the Royal Flying Corps. That doesn’t however, mean that all stories are set BEFORE 1st April 1918. No doubt, the airmen continued to think of themselves as being members of the Royal Flying Corps. I however, don’t refer to the stories as “Royal Flying Corps” stories for this reason. There is occasionally reference to other facts of matters that really occurred and can be dated. Then there are points about aircraft. For instance the Sopwith Camel came into service around June 1917. That would seem to place all stories where Biggles is flying a Camel after that date. There is then reference to time and seasons. Finally, we have reference to the names of other airmen. Some of whom are killed but who then feature in later stories. Batson, for example is killed in ‘The Decoy’ in THE CAMELS ARE COMING. But that doesn’t stop him cropping up in BIGGLES IN FRANCE, in the story ‘Biggles and the Flying Wardrobe’ (“What did you do with them? asked Batson eagerly. He had only recently joined the squadron”). All these clues help place a story in order.
What makes the whole exercise difficult is this. If stories where Raymond is a Major occurred before he was a Colonel, it often doesn’t fit in with other the facts! If only Johns had kept him as a Colonel all the time, this would have made the job so much easier!
A LIST OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR BIGGLES FLYING STORIES WITH REFERENCE TO THE CLUES IN THEM AS TO WHEN THEY WERE SET.
THE CAMELS ARE COMING (1932)
NB – All of these stories take place at 266 Squadron and in all of them Biggles is flying a Sopwith Camel. It would appear that they are all set in the period June 1917 to November 1918. However Raymond is Colonel Raymond and we know from stories elsewhere the Raymond was still at Major at Christmas 1917. It appears at first glance that all the stories in this book are set in 1918 but some must be set in 1917. The big problem is the story ‘The Boob’ which is Algy’s first story. There are so many stories featuring Algy that it is difficult to conclude that that story was not set in 1917.
1. THE WHITE FOKKER
Biggles is an “Acting Flight-Commander”. “He had killed a man not six hours before. He had killed six men during the past month – or was it a year? - he had forgotten. Time had become curiously telescoped lately”.
2. THE PACKET
Biggles is promoted to Captain because of the affair with the ‘The White Fokker’.
The story is the first to feature Colonel Raymond.
No specific clues
4. THE BALLOONATICS
The story features Colonel Raymond.
5. THE BLUE DEVIL
No specific clues
The story features Colonel Raymond.
7. THE CARRIER
Biggles is told his Military Cross is through
8. SPAD AND SPANDAUS
Wilks is talking to an American officer about Biggles. “His name’s Bigglesworth,” said Wilkinson, civilly. “Officially, he’s only shot down twelve Huns and five balloons, but to my certain knowledge he’s got several more”. Wilks has got eighteen, he says, when asked. Wilks tells the American about the Richthofen circus and says “They hunt together, and are led by Manfred Richthofen, whose score stands at about seventy. With him he’s got his brother, Lothar – with about thirty victories”. (In reality, Manfred von Richthofen scored his 70th victory on 26th March 1918 and got another three the next day. He had reached 80 victories by the time he was killed on 21st April 1918. Lothar scored his 29th victory on 12th March 1918 and didn’t get his 30th until 25th July 1918 due to injuries). So that would date this story about March 1918.
9. THE ZONE CALL
We actually have a date in this one! However due to a continuity error, (in the first edition of THE CAMELS ARE COMING) when the date is referred to again (and it is obviously meant to be the same date), it is incorrect! (Doh!) Biggles finds part of a German order which “Expires on July 21st at twelve, midnight”. Later, Biggles thinks to himself “What did those orders say? June 21st Great God, that’s to-morrow”. This story never appeared in POPULAR FLYING. When this story was reprinted in THE MODERN BOY the editor corrected the error so that the second date is July 21st as well. This correction is the same in the reprint of the story in ‘BIGGLES PIONEER AIRFIGHT’. But did Johns make the error with the first date? Did he in fact intend to set this story in June? All we can say is that this story takes place on either 20th June or 20th July and the year would appear to be 1918 because the previous story was set in March 1918. It would make much more sense, though if this story was 1917. One difficulty with that is that this story features COLONEL Raymond.
10. THE DECOY
This story appears to be set over a period of time. The narration says this about Biggles. “He fought many battles and, although he hardly bothered to confirm his victories, his score mounted rapidly. His combat reports were brief and contained nothing but the barest facts”.
11. THE BOOB
This story introduces Algy.
No specific clues.
12. THE BATTLE OF FLOWERS
No specific clues.
13. THE BOMBER
No specific clues.
14. ON LEAVE
We know from a footnote in ‘BIGGLES GOES TO SCHOOL’ that Biggles’ brother Charles was killed in the First World War in September 1918. In this story Biggles goes home to family house in London “only to find out that his father and brother, his only living relations were in the Army and somewhere in France”. The story must therefore be set before September 1918 – (unless Biggles is not aware his brother has been killed).
No specific clues.
16. AFFAIRE DE COEUR
This must be set in October/November 1918 as the events of the next story follow immediately on. Biggles meets Marie Janis and later we are told he is with her “a week later”. “In the short time that had elapsed since his forced landing, he had made considerable progress”. The events of the story lead into the next story. This story features Colonel Raymond.
17. THE LAST SHOW
This story starts with the line “In the days that followed his tragic affaire”. Biggles is promoted to Major “W.E.F. 10.11.18”. The following day he is shot down, half an hour AFTER the Armistice has been signed. The date is (Monday) 11th November 1918.
WE NOW NEED TO LOOK AT THE 13 STORIES IN ‘BIGGLES OF THE CAMEL SQUADRON’. ALL ARE SET AT 266 SQUADRON AND ALGY FEATURES FROM THE VERY FIRST STORY. INDEED, HE IS IN ALL THE STORIES, BAR ONE. THE AIRCRAFT BEING FLOWN ARE SOPWITH CAMELS. RAYMOND IS A COLONEL. WE CAN THEREFORE CONCLUDE THESE STORIES ARE SET AFTER STORY NUMBER 11, ‘THE BOOB’ FROM ‘THE CAMELS ARE COMING’ AND BEFORE STORY NUMBER 16, ‘AFFAIRE DE COEUR’ WHICH ARE THE LAST TWO STORIES OF THE WAR.
BIGGLES OF THE CAMEL SQUADRON (1934)
1. THE PROFESSOR
“A slight fall of snow during the night had covered the aerodrome of Squadron No. 266, R.F.C., with a thin white mantle”. This story features Captain Bigglesworth and Algy. They are flying Camels, so it must be after June 1917 and the snow seems to indicate a date towards winter, so it could be winter 1917 or winter 1918. I conclude that this story is set in the winter of 1918.
2. THE JOY-RIDE
There is a lack of activity in the air. Biggles says “Why, I remember the day when you couldn’t stick your nose over the Line without butting into a bit of fun of some sort or another. Now you trail up and down, and if you do see a Hun, he’d gone before you can pass the time of day”. Biggles goes on to say “Now, what with half the old crowd gone west or gone home, and thousands of spare brass-hats looking for jobs, it’s escort every blinking day”. There is a similar period of inactivity in the twelfth story in this collection, ‘Biggles’ Day Off’.
3. THE BRIDGE PARTY
No specific clues
4. THE BOTTLE PARTY
No specific clues. Henry Watkins (known as the Professor) is shot down. His comrades believe him to be dead.
5. THE TRAP
We have the first mention of Smyth, the Flight-Sergeant but there are no specific clues as to when this story is set.
6. THE FUNK
Biggles says to some newcomers “Algy – you’ll meet him in a minute – has been here six weeks, and he can call himself a veteran”.
7. THE PROFESSOR COMES BACK
Henry Watkins (known as the Professor) believed shot down and killed in story number 4 above, ‘The Bottle Party’ returns alive. This story features COLONEL Raymond.
8. THE THOUGHT READER
This story features COLONEL Raymond. The story features a man gathering corn so it seems to set around Autumn. The fact that Raymond is a Colonel means this must be Autumn 1918.
9. THE GREAT ARENA
Biggles has his Military Cross as he is seen wearing it. This story must be set after the seventh story from THE CAMELS ARE COMING, ‘The Carrier’ as that is the story that Biggles is told his Military Cross is through. COLONEL Raymond features in the story. Henry Watkins,”the Professor” is apparently shot down again. I say this is the story in which he dies. He definitely dies in the First World War flying stories because reference is made to it in the first post-war Biggles book, BIGGLES FLIES AGAIN (published August 1934). In the eleventh story from that book, entitled ‘The Sheikh and the Greek’ Biggles finds himself on board the H.M.S. Scud. Biggles is taken on board to see the Captain, who is Captain Watkins. Biggles in incensed by his treatment and the Captain asks his name. “Bigglesworth,” replied Biggles icily. Major J. H. Bigglesworth”. (Now this is interesting, because in the first Biggles book, ‘The Camels are Coming,” Biggles is referred to as J. C. Bigglesworth in a notice of posting in the story “On Leave”. That is the first time we are told Biggles middle initial. We are never told his middle name, although in “Biggles Goes to School” we find out that the name of Biggles brother is Charles, later to be killed in the First World War. Could it be that his middle name is Charles? If his middle initial is ‘H’, then what is his middle name? In any event, in the first story of this book,”The Gold Rush” Biggles says his name is “James C. Bigglesworth”). This continuity error does not appear in the later Dean & Son reprints of Biggles Flies Again, where the text is amended so that he just replies “Bigglesworth”). The Captain asks him if he is related to a fellow who served in 266 Squadron. When he says he was in 266, the Captain said that his brother was in his flight. “Biggles stared and then thawed. “Watkins – of course,” – he mused. “A good lad,” he went on. “We called him the Professor. Lacey – who is with me now – the Professor and I did many shows together. We were with him when he went – west”. Well in this story (i.e. ‘The Great Arena’) Biggles and Algy are with the Professor and he has gone. This must be the incident to which Biggles refers in BIGGLES FLIES AGAIN. Now if the Professor dies in this story – and I say he does – all other stories which refer to him must be set BEFORE this story!
10. BIGGLES FINDS HIS FEET
Biggles has engine trouble and comes down in the trenches. Neither Algy nor the Professor feature in this story.
11. THE DRAGON’S LAIR
This story does feature both Algy and the Professor. It must be set before ‘The Great Arena’, story number 9 above.
12. BIGGLES’ DAY OFF
“The early autumn morning air was chilly”. This is either Autumn 1917 or 1918 as Biggles is flying a Sopwith Camel, which came into service in June 1917 so it could be either. “For a week he had scoured the sky, sometimes with his Flight, sometimes alone. But there was no enemy air activity in the sector – and he knew the reason, for a German prisoner had told the British authorities. Some of the German planes had been sent back to Germany with the task of harassing the British long-distance bomber squadrons of the Independent Air Force who were daily raiding the Rhine towns, and others were concentrating south of the Somme, where the clouds of a great offensive was fast gathering”. It would appear this is Autumn 1918. (Historically, on 8th August 1918, the Germans in the Somme experienced the "Black Day of the German Army" as later described by General Ludendorff).
13. SCOTLAND FOR EVER!
This is one of the few stories when we are actually told a date. Biggles, Algy and the Professor are all coming in to land at 266 Squadron (based at Marinique) and when Biggles lands he is seized by Germans! Algy and the Professor fly away. “Biggles did not know, of course, that the same thing had happened at several British aerodromes, and that the first notice many people had had of the big advance was the presence of grey-coated German troops, and Uhlans charging across their aerodromes. Never was a retreat more sudden and overwhelming in its effect that that of the great Cambrai retreat of March 1918”. However, the fact that the story features the Professor places it before ‘The Great Arena’ (see above). This story (and the book) finishes with Biggles saying (to a Scotsman) “I’m going on leave to-day, and I was afraid I should miss my train. Scotland for ever!”
IN WHICH CASE THAT WOULD SEEM TO FIT ALL THESE STORIES IN NICELY BETWEEN STORY NUMBER 11, ‘THE BOOB’ FROM ‘THE CAMELS ARE COMING’ AND BEFORE STORY NUMBER 15 FROM THAT BOOK, WHEN BIGGLES IS ACTUALY GOING ‘ON LEAVE’. I ATTEMPTED TO DO THIS BUT FOUND THAT IT SIMPLY COULD NOT BE DONE. BIGGLES GOES ON LEAVE IN THE STORY ‘ON LEAVE’ FOLLOWING THE DEATH OF BATSON, SO YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE BATSON STORIES PRIOR TO THAT. WHEN BIGGLES GOES ON LEAVE IN ‘SCOTLAND FOR EVER’ IT HAS TO BE ANOTHER OCCASION.
ANOTHER PROBLEM HERE IS THE CONTINUITY WITH REGARD TO ‘THE PROFESSOR’. HE FEATURES IN THIS LAST STORY ‘SCOTLAND FOR EVER’ BUT HE IS (APPARENTLY) KILLED IN THE NINTH STORY ABOVE, ‘THE GREAT ARENA’ (FOR THE REASON EXPLAINED ABOVE). THAT THEN HAS TO BE FITTED AROUND EVERYTHING ELSE AS WELL.
JOHNS THEN WROTE ABOUT THE BEGINNING OF BIGGLES FLYING CAREER. SO HERE I AM TAKING ALL THE INDIVIDUAL STORIES IN THE ORDER THEY APPEARED IN “THE MODERN BOY”, WHEN THEY WERE FIRST PUBLISHED.
BIGGLES LEARN TO FLY (1935)
1. BIGGLES LEARNS TO FLY (Published 14th April 1934)
“One fine late September morning in the war-stricken year of 1916” we are told. So it is September 1916. We are then given explicit details about Biggles age. “His youthfulness was apparent. He might have reached the eighteen years shown on his papers, but his birth certificate, had he produced it at the recruiting office, would have revealed that he would not attain that age for another eleven months. Like many others who had left school to plunge straight into the most ghastly barbarism that Europe had ever known, he had conveniently ‘lost’ his birth certificate when applying for enlistment, nearly three months previously”. So if in September 1916, Biggles is aged 17 years and one month, he must therefore have been born in August 1899 and was 16 when enlisted “nearly three months previously”. A week later, (after the “late September morning”) Biggles flies solo. Three days later, Biggles is posted to Frensham. Three days later, Biggles is posted to France. It would appear we are therefore in October 1916. We are told that Biggles has done less than fifteen hours’ flying, dual and solo.
2. BIGGLES’ FIRST FLIGHT (Published 21st April 1934)
Biggles arrives at 169 Squadron. Biggles is asked how many hours solo flying he has done and he answers nine. It which case we can deduce he had less than six hours instruction, because he had done “less than fifteen hours flying, dual and solo”.
3. BIGGLES THE SCOUT (Published 28th April 1934)
“A week had passed since Biggles ‘first never-to-be-forgotten flight over the Lines”.
The story is set at 169 Squadron. This would still appear to be October 1916.
4. SPY IN THE SKY (Published 5th May 1934)
Snow gets in Biggles face so this is during the winter 1916/1917. The story is set at 169 Squadron.
5. CRASHED FLYERS (Published 12th May 1934)
The story is set at 169 Squadron.
6. KNIGHTS OF THE SKY (Published 19th May 1934)
In the book ‘BIGGLES LEARNS TO FLY’ this story was moved to the end and re-written. This placing here is the correct placing in terms of story order. The last story of the 1955 revised edition of BIGGLES LEARNS TO FLY called ‘The Dawn Patrol’ is merely this story re-written to be placed at 266 Squadron. That chapter can effectively be ignored as not being Johns’ original work. In the correct original version of THIS story, Biggles goes to 266 Squadron for a visit and meets with Major Mullen, the C.O.
7 THE LAUGHING SPY (Published 26th May 1934)
Biggles in introduced to MAJOR Raymond for the first time.
8. BIGGLES’ BULLS-EYE (Published 2nd June 1934)
The story is set at 169 Squadron.
9. BIGGLES BUYS THE SKY (Published 9th June 1934)
The story is set at 169 Squadron. During the story, the squadron are equipped with new aircraft “Bristol Fighters”. This means that Biggles now has his own gun in addition to having a rear gunner with a gun. Assuming this is a Bristol F2 Fighter, they arrived on the Western Front in April 1917.
10. BIGGLES BIG BATTLE (Published 16th June 1934)
The story is set at 169 Squadron.
11. BIGGLES SURPRISE PACKET (Published 23rd June 1934)
At the beginning of this story, Biggles moves from 169 Squadron to 266 Squadron. He is now flying a single seater fighter – the Sopwith Pup.
12. BIGGLES REVENGE (Published 30th June 1934)
Biggles is at 266 Squadron but he hears that his friend Mabs has been killed and his old friend and gunner, Mark Way, severally wounded. Biggles’ Squadron has been equipped with Sopwith Camels for nearly a month. Historically, the Sopwith Camel entered operation service in June 1917.
IN TERMS OF CONTINUITY WE CAN ACCEPT THOSE FIRST 12 STORIES AS BEING IN ORDER AT THE BEGINNING OF BIGGLES CAREER. WE NOW NEED TO CONTINUE THE STORIES IN THE ORDER THEY APPEARED IN “THE MODERN BOY”, WHEN THEY WERE FIRST PUBLISHED. THIS MEANS THAT THE STORIES ARE FROM BOTH “BIGGLES IN FRANCE” AND “BIGGLES – AIR-ACE” AS THE LATTER BOOK GATHERED UP THE UNCOLLECTED STORIES. I HAVE ALSO INSERTED THE OTHER UNCOLLECTED STORIES IN PUBLICATION ORDER.
BIGGLES IN FRANCE (1935) AND THE OTHER UNCOLLECTED STORIES
1. BIGGLES GOES BALLOONING (Published 7th July 1934)
Biggles is referred to as being a Second-Lieut. This means that the stories are set before he became a Captain. In THE CAMELS ARE COMING, he is promoted to Captain in the second story following the events of the first. It would appear that this story is set before the events of THE CAMELS ARE COMING. However, in this story Raymond is referred to as a Colonel and that would seem to indicate that the year is 1918 Certainly with Raymond being a Colonel it must be close to the stories from THE CAMELS ARE COMING.
2. BIGGLES AND THE RUNAWAY TANK (Published 14th July 1934)
“At the period when Biggles was just becoming known to other squadrons in France as a splendid fighting pilot”. This story is set “One day about the middle of June”. Is this 1917 or 1918? I say we must assume this is 1917, otherwise nearly all the Biggles stories will occur between June 1918 and November 1918 and not that many between October 1916 (when we know Biggles was sent to the Front) and June 1918.
3. FLYING LUCK (Published 21st July 1934)
Other than being told “for four consecutive days the weather has been bad and there is no flying” there is little to date this story. Flight-Sergeant Smyth makes his first appearance chronologically speaking (or at least where the Flight-Sergeant is NAMED as Smyth).
8. BIGGLES AND THE MAD HATTER (Published 28th July 1934)
This story is set “during a certain summer day”. Again, for reasons outlined about, I say this must be 1917.
5. BIGGLES SKY HIGH HAT TRICK (Published 4th August 1934)
Now this story must be set after 24th March 1918. Johns starts the story by telling us “The greatest number of enemy aeroplanes to fall in one day during the Great War under the guns of any single airman numbered six. At the end of the War two or three officers had accomplished this amazing record, which was first established by Captain J. L. Trollope shortly before he himself was shot down”. We are told this story “happened shortly after Captain Trollope had astonished all the squadrons in France by his amazing exploit”. (Captain J. L. Trollope of the 43rd Squadron performed this event on 24th March 1918 in a Sopwith Camel). It would therefore appear that Johns has jumped from Summer 1917 to March 1918? It can’t be that the previous story was set in Summer 1918 as this story is set “shorty after” 24th March 1918, which is only three days into Spring.
6. THE ACE OF SPADES (Published in THE COCKPIT in August 1934)
I have inserted this story here because of when it was published. It appears to fit nicely in the gap between the run of Biggles stories up to 4th August 1934 and the run of stories that commenced in THE MODERN BOY from December 1934. As to when the story occurs chronologically, we have a good clue in the story. Biggles upsets a General. The General asks him severely, “How long have you been in France?” “About eleven months, sir,” answered Biggles (We know from ‘Biggles Learns to Fly’ that Biggles was sent to the front in October 1916 so this would date this story around September 1917 and Biggles would be just aged 18 as he was born in August 1899). So we can say that this story is set around September 1917. Biggles is a Captain in this story and he is flying a Camel.
7. BIGGLES AND THE FLYING CAMERA (Published 1st December 1934)
This story is important in terms of continuity as Johns brings Algy back into the First World war flying stories. “Narrow escapes? What are they?” asks Biggles. “Why, don’t you have any?” inquired Algy Lacey, who had joined the squadron not long before”. This clearly places this story after the story “The Boob” from ‘THE CAMELS ARE COMING’, which Algy first appeared. The difficulty with this is that MAJOR Raymond features in this story (i.e. ‘Biggles and The Flying Camera’) – and throughout all the stories in THE CAMELS ARE COMING – Raymond was a Colonel!
8. BIGGLES’ SKY-HIGH SPY (Published 8th December 1934)
This is the story where we have reference to “Captain Bigglesworth (his promotion dated from his meritorious work in bringing down the camera-plane)”. This must set this story around the time of ‘The White Fokker’ (the first ever Biggles story) as he is promoted to Captain for the events of that story as well – so we are told in the ‘The Packet’, the story that follows ‘The White Fokker’.
9. BIGGLES’ XMAS BOX (Published 15th December 1934)
This story is obviously set at Christmas time. But is this Christmas 1916 or Christmas 1917. Well, Biggles is at 266 Squadron and unless all his adventures at 169 Squadron occurred after October 1916 and before Christmas 1916, this must be Christmas 1917.
10. BIGGLES’ CHRISTMAS TREE (Published 22nd December 1934)
Again, the above applies. This must be Christmas 1917. The story features MAJOR Raymond so in 1917 Raymond was a Major. This would appear to place all stories when Raymond is a Colonel in 1918.
11. BIGGLES CARVES THE TURKEY (Published 29th December 1934)
This time we are told it is Christmas Eve. Again for the reasons outlined above, with Biggles at 266 Squadron, this must be Christmas 1917.
12. BIGGLES’ PAPERCHASE (Published 5th January 1935)
This story features MAJOR Raymond.
13. BIGGLES AND THE FLYING WARDROBE (Published 12th January 1935)
Biggles is referred to as Captain Bigglesworth and this story features Batson. “What did you do with them? asked Batson eagerly. He had only recently joined the squadron”. Now Batson was a good friend of Biggles, killed in the story ‘The Decoy’ from THE CAMELS ARE COMING. This clearly sets this story before that one.
14. BIGGLES’ BORROWED PLUMES (Published 19th January 1935)
Other than this story being set at 266 Squadron, there are no real clues as to when it was set. Algy features – so we can say with certainty it is set after ‘The Boob’ from THE CAMELS ARE COMING.
15. FLYING CRUSADERS (Published 26th January 1935)
The Red Baron is seen flying in this story – so it must be set before 21st April 1918, when, historically, he was killed.
16. BIGGLES AND THE JOKER (Published 2nd February 1935)
Other than this story being set at 266 Squadron, there are no real clues as to when it was set. Algy features – so we can again say with certainty it is set after ‘The Boob’ from THE CAMELS ARE COMING.
17. BIGGLES’ NIGHT OUT (Published 31st August 1935)
We have just the usual clues. Biggles is a Captain. The story is set at 266 Squadron, and it features Algy It is set after ‘The Boob’ from THE CAMELS ARE COMING.
18. THE FLEDGLINGS (Published in ‘The New Book of the Air’ August 1935)
This story was reprinted in Modern Boy, issue dated 7th January 1939, the last First World War flying story to appear in that magazine – or any of the related annuals).
Other than being a 266 Squadron story and Biggles is flying a Camel as usual, there are no real clues as to when it was set.
19. BIGGLES ON THE SPOT (Published in ‘The Modern Boy’s Book of Adventure Stories’ in 1936 – exact date of publication is unknown)
This story, set at 266 Squadron, features COLONEL Raymond, thereby putting it later than all stories featuring MAJOR Raymond.
20. BIGGLES’ EXCITING NIGHT (Published in ‘The Modern Boy’s Annual for 1937’ – exact date of publication is unknown)
Other than being a 266 Squadron story, there are no real clues as to when it was set.
21. BIGGLES TAKES THE BAIT (Published in ‘The Modern Boy’s Annual for 1938’ – exact date of publication is unknown)
The content of the story, that the Germans are particularly out to get Biggles, appears to follow on nicely from the story ‘BIGGLES ON THE SPOT’ (see 19 above). Now that story featured COLONEL Raymond. Although Raymond does not feature in this story, I think this story should come directly after ‘BIGGLES ON THE SPOT’.
WE HAVE NOW LOOKED AT THE 17 STORIES FROM ‘THE CAMELS ARE COMING’, THE 13 STORIES FROM ‘BIGGLES OF THE CAMEL SQUADRON’, AND THE 33 STORIES FROM ‘BIGGLES LEARNS TO FLY’, ‘BIGGLES IN FRANCE’, ‘BIGGLES – AIR-ACE’ AND THE ONE SINGLE STORY FROM ‘THE COCKPIT’ – ‘THE ACE OF SPADES’. THIS IS A TOTAL OF 63 STORIES.
THE FINAL QUESTION IS WHERE DO THE TWO FULL LENGTH FIRST WORLD WAR NOVELS FIT IN?
BIGGLES FLIES EAST (1935)
We get a good idea of when this story is set in Johns’ forward. “Biggles at the time was a war-hardened veteran of twelve months”. Now we know Biggles was sent to the Front in October 1916, so this places the story around October 1917. The story features MAJOR Raymond and we had concluded from earlier information that Raymond was a Major throughout 1917, so this ties in. There is one further clue to help with the story order. In chapter 18, Biggles physically fights with Brunow, a traitor. “It was the first time in his life that he had actually made physical contact with one of the enemy, and his reaction to it was shattering in its intensity; it aroused a latent instinct to destroy that he had never suspected was in him, and the knowledge that the man was not only an enemy but a traitor fanned the red-heat of his rage to a searing, white-hot flame”. So any other physical grappling with the enemy must be after October 1917 it would appear.
Finally, the Germans sent Biggles through Jerusalem when he was going to Zabala and I understand the British captured Jerusalem in December 1917, so it must have been before then.
THE RESCUE FLIGHT (1939)
Thirty and Rip are posted to Biggles flight but here is “B” Flight, rather than his usual “C” Flight. At what stage did Biggles change flights? Biggles is Captain Bigglesworth here, and the story is set at 266 and features Algy. So this is set after ‘The Boob’ from THE CAMELS ARE COMING. The main problem in continuity is that Raymond is MAJOR Raymond in this. That tends to set the story earlier at 266 rather than later. In chapter five, Biggles has a newspaper clipping. It alerts him to the fact that both Thirty and Rip have run away from a public school. He says “The paper was sent to me from England because it happened to contain an account of a raid I took part in”. Is Biggles referring to a raid that took place in France? Or could this be referring to an incident that took place in the fourteenth story from THE CAMELS ARE COMING. That story is called ‘On Leave’ and Biggles is alerted to the fact that two German seaplanes are bombing Ramsgate. Is that the “raid” that Biggles took part in? That said, a character called Frazer in this story, on hearing that Biggles name is “Bigglesworth” says “He’s not the Bigglesworth – the fellow we read about in the papers – the flyer – is he?” So it would appear that Biggles does feature in newspapers prior to that. As Algy is in the story this must be after ‘THE BOOB’
Now the hard part. Taking all that information and trying to put the stories into a logical order.
As to the methodology I chose to do this, I prepared sixty-five large pieces of card with all information pertaining to when they were set. Each piece of card told me if the story featured Algy or Raymond and whether Raymond was a Major or a Colonel. Each card told me if Biggles was a Captain or another rank, if Biggles flew a Camel or another plane. Each card contained all the clues set out in this appendix. Clues about weather, time of year, dates.
I started with the 17 cards for ‘THE CAMELS ARE COMING’ and I then inserted the 13 cards for BIGGLES OF THE CAMEL SQUADRON between ‘The Bomber’ (the thirteenth story in ‘The Camels are Coming) and ‘On Leave’(the fourteenth story in ‘The Camels are Coming). I then moved ‘The Great Arena’ and put that before ‘Affaire De Coeur’.
I then took all of the ‘THE MODERN BOY’ stories and I assembled these in publication order. To these I inserted the Ace of Spades between the stories published in issues 339 and 356, that being the correct place for a story published in August 1934. After the stories from issues 365 to 395 (the latter published August 1935), I inserted ‘The Fledglings’ (August 1935), Biggles Flies East (August 1935), ‘Biggles on the Spot’ (1936), Biggles Exciting Night (1937) and The Rescue Flight (first published October to December 1938 in ‘Modern Boy’).
With this as an initial “starting” order, I then bought forward all the stories featuring COLONEL Raymond. The Algy stories had to be rearranged so that they took place AFTER ‘The Boob’. This was achieved by moving ‘The Boob’ back. Then I did my best to amend the arrangement to comply with all the clues as to when the stories were set. After hours and hours of work, I finally concluded that it was impossible!
For example, in the story “Biggles Goes Ballooning’, the first story from ‘BIGGLES IN FRANCE’, Biggles is said to be a Second Lieutenant but Raymond is a Colonel! It makes no logical sense. And that is not surprising as Johns never wrote them in a logical order.
The following pages contain my best attempt (so far) at a suggested chronological order. Like Biggles I will be waiting to be shot down in flames by other Biggles aficionados who can see the faults and problems in this chronological order. I have tried to keep them to a minimum!
It was fun to do, but the real pleasure lies in reading the stories themselves. The First World War flying stories were never meant to be critically and logically analysed. They were meant to be read and enjoyed for what they were. There is no need to compare this story with that story and say that does not make sense. It doesn’t affect your enjoyment of a good story whether Raymond is a Major or a Colonel.
But it was fun trying ………… Roger Harris 17th May 2015
A SUGGESTED CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER
1. BIGGLES LEARN TO FLY (BLTF) 1916 (September)
2. BIGGLES’ FIRST FLIGHT (BLTF) 1916 (October)
3. BIGGLES THE SCOUT (BLTF) 1916 (October)
4. SPY IN THE SKY (BLTF) 1916/17 (Winter)
5. CRASHED FLYERS (BLTF) 1917
6. KNIGHTS OF THE SKY (BLTF) 1917
7. THE LAUGHING SPY (BLTF) 1917 – Introduces Major Raymond
8. BIGGLES’ BULLS EYE (BLTF) 1917
9. BIGGLES BUYS THE SKY (BLTF) 1917 (April)
10. BIGGLES BIG BATTLE (BLTF) 1917
11. BIGGLES SURPRISE PACKET (BLTF) 1917 (Biggles moved to 266 Squadron)
12. BIGGLES’ REVENGE (BLTF) 1917 (June)
13. BIGGLES GOES BALLOONING (BIF) 1917 (Colonel Raymond – Biggles not Captain)
14. BIGGLES AND THE RUNAWAY TANK (BIF)1917 (June)
15. FLYING LUCK (BIF) 1917
16. BIGGLES AND THE MAD HATTER (BIF) 1917 (Summer)
17. THE BOOB (TCAC) 1917 – Algy joins 266 Squadron.
18. THE WHITE FOKKER (TCAC) 1917
19. BIGGLES AND THE FLYING CAMERA (BIF) 1917 (Features Algy & Major Raymond)
20. BIGGLES SKY HIGH SPY (BIF) 1917 (Biggles is promoted to Captain)
21. J-9982 (TCAC) 1917
22 THE BLUE DEVIL (TCAC) 1917
23. THE BATTLE OF FLOWERS (TCAC) 1917
24. THE FUNK (BOTCS) 1917 – Algy has been at 266 for 6 weeks
25. THE ACE OF SPADES (TC) 1917 (September)
26. BIGGLES FLIES EAST (Novel) 1917 (October)
27. BIGGLES’ XMAS BOX (BAA) 1917 (Christmas)
28. BIGGLES CHRISTMAS TREE (BAA) 1917 (Christmas)
29. BIGGLES CARVES THE TURKEY(BIF) 1917 (Christmas Eve)
30. BIGGLES PAPERCHASE (BIF) 1918 (Features Major Raymond)
31. THE RESCUE FLIGHT (Novel) 1918
32. BIGGLES’ BORROWED PLUMES (BIF) 1918
33. BIGGLES AND THE JOKER (BAA) 1918
34. BIGGLES’ NIGHT OUT (BAA) 1918
35. THE FLEDGLINGS (BAA) 1918
36. BIGGLES’ EXCITING NIGHT (BAA) 1918
37. THE BOMBER (TCAC) 1918
38. THE TRAP (BOTCS) 1918
39. THE BALLOONATICS (TCAC) 1918
40. CAMOUFLAGE (TCAC) 1918
41. THE CARRIER (TCAC) 1918
42. BIGGLES AND THE FLYING WARDROBE(BIF)1918 (Features Batson)
43. THE PACKET (TCAC) 1918 (Features Batson)
44. THE DECOY (TCAC) 1918 (Batson is killed)
45. ON LEAVE (TCAC) 1918
46. FOG (TCAC) 1918 (follows on from ‘On Leave’)
47. SPADS AND SPANDAUS (TCAC) 1918 (March)
48. BIGGLES SKY HIGH HAT TRICK (BIF) 1918 (March – shortly after 24th)
49. FLYING CRUSADERS (BIF) 1918 (Red Baron so before 21st April)
50. BIGGLES ON THE SPOT (BAA) 1918 (Features Colonel Raymond)
51. BIGGLES TAKE THE BAIT (BAA) 1918 (Appears to follow ‘On the Spot’)
52. THE ZONE CALL (TCAC) 1918 (June/July)
53. THE JOY RIDE (BOTCS) 1918
54. BIGGLES’ DAY OFF (BOTCS) 1918
55. THE THOUGHT READER (BOTCS) 1918 (Autumn)
56. THE PROFESSOR (BOTCS) 1918 (Winter time - with the Professor)
57. THE BRIDGE PARTY (BOTCS) 1918 (Features the Professor)
58. THE BOTTLE PARTY (BOTCS) 1918 (Features the Professor)
59. THE PROFESSOR COMES BACK (BOTCS)1918 (Features the Professor)
60. BIGGLES FINDS HIS FEET (BOTCS)1918
61. THE DRAGON’S LAIR (BOTCS) 1918 (Features the Professor)
62. SCOTLAND FOREVER! (BOTCS) 1918 (Features the Professor)
63 THE GREAT ARENA (BOTCS) 1918 – The Professor apparently dies.
64. AFFAIRE DE COEUR (TCAC) 1918 (October/November)
65. THE LAST SHOW (TCAC) 1918 (November)
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