I left the hotel early the next morning a changed man and although still in a dreadful state of mind, I forced myself to think of only one thing, this blood torn war and my further involvement. I had no fear of death now and at that time even wished it upon myself.
I haven’t much recall about getting to Larkhill and the Station Commander being somewhat surprised to see me two weeks early. He was a pleasant chap who laughed when he read my orders. “Bloody fools! You are NOT here to instruct, you are here to BE instructed and after you get to know the Camel you will be going to Boscombe Down to learn how to shoot the shit out of Salisbury Plain and bomb a few rabbits while you’re at it. After you are up to scratch with all this fun your crews will begin to arrive and then you can all train together with you instructing (at least they got that bit right) them with other instructors. We want you ready to fly to your new base three weeks after you have a full squadron. Now of course it seems you have an extra two weeks, fancy starting tomorrow?”
“Yes sir, very much so.” Of course I did and being so involved with this new aircraft would stop me brooding, I would when I went to bed though, badly.
I’m not going to write about feelings or my sheer despondency, upset, anger! You must know what I would be like surely.
Instead I will say little about the Sopwith Camel, the most successful fighter of the 1st World War, but she was a bitch to handle when you first started to fly her if you were inexperienced, and many new pilots were killed during training and all down to the Clerget 9b 130 hp rotary engine which caused a gyroscopic effect, but this very characteristic turned her into a fantastically manoeuvrable fighter and in a right turn, nothing could catch her. She could climb to 20,000ft but in my role it would be more like 20ft!
She was a moody cow and needed to be dominated otherwise she would ruin your day and often much worse.
The type of Camel we would fly was designated the TF1, *(Trench Fighter) and her two 7.7mm Lewis machine guns were situated in the cockpit pointing down at an angle so as to fire directly into trenches as we swept along the length of them and also drop the four 20lb cooper bombs slung under the undercarriage strut. All pilots would carry two extra bombs in the cockpit and lob those over the side during an attack as well. We would also have armour plating to protect us and the underbelly of the engine. It was a killer and every bit as effective as the German Halerstadt C L 1V. Many troops on both sides would become victims of these machines.
Apart from brief descriptions about operations there will only be two that will be written in full.
Once again the organisers got it wrong which was no bad mistake this time as within two days all the pilots arrived and two days after that we all got to know one another quite well. Including me, there were 12 of us. They came from all sorts of backgrounds and I was pleased to learn even the posh ones were really nice chaps. Most were officers but we had four NCO’s as well.
Training was intense but it went well as did the firing and bombing on the ranges on Salisbury Plain and three weeks to the day we met in the crew room for my briefing and courses we would fly going to France.
“We fly directly east to west and when we are five miles from this point, Penton Manor, we drop to 200ft open up to full speed and fly out another two miles slowing to 50 mph then turn to port and fly over again. We fly in three boxes of four aircraft in port echelon. After that direct to Dieppe.”
“Do you have family living there Albert?”
“Yes, Peter, my father.” I was going to say goodbye as I had done when I flew away from the school. It would be my final farewell to a once happy life that was now in shreds before flying into the unknown. Suffering in silence was a struggle but I was alone and could not confide in any other person. For the umpteenth time I thanked my luck I was good at what I did and all down to the two men now sharing a bed!
I did not look down on the slow fly over even though I wished I could see my father, but Lord Penton and Mister Miller may also be standing with him. I had often wondered what he thought of the new relationship, he could hardly write and tell me, not on the back of a postcard, and letters were being censored.
After a whole day getting settled in four of us took off on our first attack, but I had ordered the crews not to drop bombs as we would have to fly at some distance apart or possibly get blown up by our own 20lb’ers going off as we flew over them. So we flew nose to tail at no more than 100ft and strafed the trenches with our combined eight machine guns all firing 500 rounds per minute each. After we had emptied our guns. I would lead them over German lines to bomb random targets of which there were plenty, especially transports and more troops.
We would carry out as many as five of these attacks every day, including in bad weather. It was hugely risky and in the first month we lost five pilots and aircraft.
Replacements of both pilots and Camels was good and although we lost men on a regular basis, we were doing an enormous amount of damage ourselves. As for me? I was so shattered after flying I just fell into a deep sleep for a few hours, but every morning when I woke I had this image of what I had seen in Lord Penton’s bedroom that night, I just could not get it out of my head. However, it was all forgotten as I planned and lead yet another attack on German trenches.
Only bad weather gave us some respite as well as being ordered to go on random attacks, and with fighter cover our casualties dropped dramatically. I did not know it then of course but I was just weeks from being shot down myself.
Sometime before that, and after almost a year leading the squadron, I was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, DSO, which again was just for doing my job! Oh well, one more to the collection. It made a very different birthday, it was the 15th March 1918. I was 21 and officially an adult!
I remember this particular morning I woke early for some reason. I laid on my back with my hands at the back of my head and of course thinking about you know what and then going down memory lane to all the wonderful times we had shared and just could not get my head around why he had Miller in his bed. Was it just sexual need? Had he in fact done what he thought may happen to me when I was at the school, fall for another? Fell for Miller and loving him more than he had me!? Oh fuck! That must be it! There could be no other reason! I had heard of a few blokes that had been dumped by a girlfriend via a letter or card. I wondered if I would get one.
I looked at that scene time and again and then something odd struck me. I sat up and stared at nothing, my mind was still on the bed and could now see a lot clearer. I suddenly realised His Lordship was in pyjamas! Why? He never wore them but mind you I didn’t know if he had the trousers on so dismissed it as him being cold… No! He was never cold, nor was Miller I was sure, he didn’t have a top on. I tried to forget it but it would not leave me until I got to the squadron hut and my last thought about it was, pyjamas or not they were still in fucking bed together.
This was to be a random sortie with four up and four fighters escorting and arranged to meet them at a point over the British lines. They never turned up and eventually I wagged my wings and flew on.
We were 10 miles behind the enemy lines when we all spotted a column of trucks, dozens of them, but not moving. I dived at them followed by the others and strafed and bombed them causing massive damage and saw five trucks blazing away. I then began a turn to starboard and literally flew into a hail of bullets missing me but finishing my engine. A quick look around and I saw another Camel going down, the other two were nowhere to be seen.
I fought to stop from stalling knowing I had to get on the deck quickly or end up on the casualty list. Once again luck was on my side and managed to get her down onto a field and virtually flew her into the ground, breaking the undercarriage and ending upside down. I undid my strap and fell out, so did the flare I always carried, I set it off and threw it back in the cockpit then ran like hell, straight into the arms of a welcoming party!
I was knocked about a bit but an officer shouted and the punches stopped. Jonnie, ah I mean Lord Penton had taught me a little German when we got home after that miserable time in that country and I could make out that a couple of troops were being sent to get transport, the officer, who turned out to be a Colonel, told me he was having me taken to a nearby airfield where I would be held until other arrangements could be made.
“If you stay with us, someone will kill you after all those you have killed today.” He said in English.
“Why are you doing this?”
“Because my two brothers are prisoners of you British and safe, they were both ground attack pilots like you.” May the luck continue!
It has to be said they were not best pleased to see me and got yelled at for quite some time. The bloke in charge was talking so quickly I could not understand a word, except a name, “Hanne” Hanne? That was Kurt’s name! Surely not!? But it was!
He came in and saluted the officer. He took one look at me without expression then looked back at the Colonel and spoke to him and from what I could gather he, Kurt, would be responsible for me and to get a guard and take me “downstairs.” He rattled off some more then Kurt left to go and get a soldier to take me “downstairs.”
“Well well, I didn’t expect to see you ever again.” The door had been shut to this small room and Kurt standing there with a massive smile on his face. We shook hands and embraced. “Oh my goodness! It’s so lovely to see you again Albert!”
“What happens to me now?”
“They are waiting for someone to come here to interrogate you which could be a few days and then you will be going to a POW camp, but Albert it will not be nice I am afraid, but you won’t be harmed I promise. How is his Lordship?” Thoughts flashed through my head.
“Can I tell you something very private Kurt?”
“Yes of course we are friends, at least I hope so.” Before I could reply there was a noise outside and a knock on the door. Kurt raised his voice and called me all the shits under the sun then opened it and took the food tray that the guard gave him and then tipped it onto the floor and once again shouted at me. After he had finished he told the guard to go.
“I am SO sorry, that was for effect, I have to be careful with this lot.”
“I wasn’t hungry anyway. Kurt you do know his Lordship and I were lovers don’t you?”
“I had wondered. That’s why I told you I was homosexual hoping you would do something when we went riding. What happened?”
“He has taken my ex-best friend and they are now lovers. I found them in bed together.”
“Oh, I am so sorry, I thought he was such a delightful person.”
“Well it’s happened and maybe because of this fucking war, who knows. It’s a shame we could not have been more close when we stayed with you.”
I went to him and brushed his cheeks with the back of my hand. He stayed still and so I got closer and put my arms around him. Having some sort of sex with him could be my way out of here. I cuddled him and put my face against his,
“Albert… perhaps not.”
“Why not, we will hear the guard before he comes in and I would really like to kiss you Kurt.”
I kissed his cheek and ran my hands over his back. I kissed his neck and he sighed.
“Albert… Please, this is…”
I held his face in my hands and gently kissed his mouth and then ran my tongue over his lips.
We both opened our mouths and our tongues met for a long time but as we kissed I was undoing his belt and unbuttoning his flies. His trousers dropped to the floor followed two seconds later by his pants. I took his lovely cock into my hand and began to stroke, all the while Kurt getting very close to the end. I quickly sank to my knees and took him down all the way and blew him. He was losing it and began to face fuck me while I took his cheeks and played, then ran a finger into his crack.
“Oh my God! Oh my God!!!”
He held still and shot into me many, many times, and as he did he gasped out as quietly as he could.
We sat on the bed with our arms around one another kissing again. I broke away and stood up.
“We can have sex many times if you help me get away, you come with me and when we get to my side you will be sent to England and become a free man.
He looked at me as though I had gone mad! All I wanted was to escape and if I could use Kurt to help me I would do or say anything, after all this was war and he was the enemy.
“Help me escape and I will get you to England and when I come home we can see a lot of one another and I can also introduce you to many lovely men for as much sex as you want. They will interrogate you and you must have a lot to tell them. You will be made welcome and you can start a new life without all this murderous shit. Millions have died and still dying and for what!?”
“I had better go, the guard will wonder why I am here so long. I will ask him when the guard changes and will come back when the new one is on.”
“Any chance of a bath and some clean clothes?”
“I will bring down all you need, my friend. You have no idea what it’s like to talk to another man who wants peace. I hate to say it but I am so ashamed of my country. Think about how we could get away from here but I cannot see how unless we steal a DR1 each and that’s impos…”
“Now you’re talking Kurt. YOU think about how we can.”
Ten minutes later he was back with washing stuff and clean underwear and overalls.
“I laid in the bath knowing I wanted sex with Kurt and not just to get him on my side but in some ways start to live a new life, Lord Penton was gone but how odd my new beginning is with one of the enemy! It would just be sex, I knew fucking well I would never fall in love or trust another man again.
“So tell me how your aircraft are parked at night.”
We were cuddled up with my hand down Kurt’s trousers and his on mine, but I was naked from the waist down and very hard. He loved what he was holding.
“As it’s good weather they are parked outside and to save you asking they are all refuelled, rearmed and bombs loaded ready for the next day’s flying. As I see it the main problems are getting past the sentries. If we get as far as starting the planes up there will be a huge risk as we have to have ground crew to help. We would have to start each plane and then get in before anyone opens fire on us. There are anti-aircraft gunners on duty all day.”
“What about night?”
“We have never been attacked at night and they will be in their duty room on standby.”
He had to go after we had wanked one another off and I told him I hoped we could do more the next day, so did he.
“Let’s think about how to do this tomorrow and agree when we do it but I won’t get anywhere if those people turn up. Kurt I think we should try early the day after tomorrow.”
I had a bad night and just laid there feeling sorry for myself
Kurt came down with a soldier with breakfast and I swallowed the lot in quick time, I was starving thanks to Kurt getting all tough the day before. After talking for an hour we had agreed our plan to escape.
We would first overpower the guard down here at 4am with a leather cosh that Kurt had and then tie him up in this room. I would wear his uniform and take his rifle. Kurt and I would then carry out a surprise inspection and beat those fuckers up as well. Next I had to get to the guns and sabotage them, simple ram a round down the mussels and yank the bullet cases off.
He then took me around the cockpit layout and the startup which was more or less the same as ours.
“Do the bombs have safety pins?”
“Yes and if you are going to use them, I won’t, but I will get your guns ready to fire as well as take the pins out.”
“I will if I get the chance Kurt, destroying some of those aircraft may save some allied lives.”
We got into a 69 and finished one another off, but after he had gone I forgot it. Instead I thought about the countless times his Lordship and I had done it, AND without pyjamas on!
The next day all I worried about was this bloke turning up to interrogate me, it was a hell of a long day, and the night was no better. Kurt came down twice but had to be away and there was no time to have full sex, just kissing and a bit of sucking.
“It will be different when we meet in England, Kurt.” I said knowing it wouldn’t.
I was already awake when I heard Kurt talking to the guard telling him I had to be moved and to hurry up. The poor lad came rushing in, straight into the long heavy leather cosh that I had in my hand. We stripped him off and tied him to the bed and after gagging him we left, locking the door behind us.
We strolled slowly towards the two guards and got challenged. Kurt identified himself and told them there had been reports of aircraft movements in the area. They kept looking at me knowing full well I was not known to them.
“Who is this man sir?”
Kurt looked at me and turned back to them.
“He is an escaping British prisoner!”
With that I smashed the cosh on the head of the nearest one while Kurt went for the other but was having a problem, but once again the cosh did its job. We left them where they were and Kurt ran towards the two aircraft we were going to pinch and get the chocks away and both Fokker DR1 Tri-planes ready to start up.
Meanwhile I ran to the first gun pit, pulled a round off the belt and jammed it into the muzzle. I hit it with the butt of the rifle hoping the bugger would not go off, which I knew it wouldn’t, then ripped the bullet case off. I repeated that on the second pit gun then ran like hell to the aircraft with Kurt sitting in it. I went to the propeller and swung it a few times, I looked at him and he waved to me. This was it, now the whole base would wake up. The DR1’s engine burst into life making one hell of a row. Kurt gave a burst on the throttle and then back to idle. He jumped out and passed me as he ran to his plane. I had already turned the propeller several times and all he had to do was make the contact. I pulled down once more and breathed a sigh of relief when that too came to life.
I had told Kurt to take off and not wait for me, if he was caught he would definitely be in front of a firing squad. If I didn’t make it at least he could get to British lines and surrender and I would not have Penton or Miller on my mind anymore.
I had to remember everything Kurt had instructed me about take-off and flying this Fokker and my word WHAT a plane, it was superb! I did a quick taxi into the wind and just opened up as the first of quite a few rifle bullets zipped past me. I climbed as though flying away and then turned this brilliant aircraft to make my first run and at full throttle, lined up and pulled both triggers. A stream of bullets shot out and I could see the hits as they slammed into most of the aircraft parked up. I repeated a second run with the same good results, three planes were already on fire. But the third run did the most damage as I flew over for the last time and released all eight bombs one at a time in quick succession. There were even more explosions, even more burning aircraft and a badly damaged hanger due to a lucky drop when two bombs landed right inside it and I was sure destroying even more aircraft and materials.
Kurt and I landed an hour later much to the consternation of all those at the field until I was able to give a full report. Kurt was taken away for interrogation and later in the day two aircraft went off to take photos of my handy work. The photos showed that most aircraft lined up had been either destroyed or badly damaged and it was estimated from what Kurt could tell them that another six were completely destroyed as the hanger had caught fire and out of control.
By sheer coincidence we had escaped on the 1st April as the RAF was created, but it would be some time before new ranks would be offered to go with the new uniforms.
Kurt and I met one more time before he was taken to St. Omer where he could pass on much more information all of which proved more than useful.
“Albert I now know it was nothing to do with you wanting sex with me, but everything to do with escape and it obviously worked. I am no longer a part of this madness, but my friend, you will continue to fight and I pray you come through safely.”
“Yes, I admit I used you Kurt and forgive me, I don’t want sex with any other man. I was in love with Penton and even though I am trying to forget him and what we had, it is still a struggle. If I survive this I will try to find a life doing something useful, but God knows what. I will come through though that’s the only thing Penton and I have left in common now, determination.”
We hugged goodbye and once again I found myself alone.
The squadron carried out many more trench attacks over the next couple of weeks and we were then stood down for a week and were told we would be going to Paris!
“But not you Captain Dowling. You have to fly to St. Omer, in full dress uniform tomorrow.”
My goodness, when I landed it was like royalty being welcomed. I was met by a Major General and escorted into the same room when I was awarded my Military Medal.
I thought “why the not.” There were a number of gold-clad senior officers sipping and every one of them raising their glasses to me.
“Good health Captain!”
I offered my good health to them and then it hit me! “Oh fucking SHIT!”
General H himself came in and after some very nice words presented me with the ribbon of the Victoria Cross!
“Well done my boy… VERY well done, MAJOR Dowling!” He then shook my hand again and presented me with the two crowns!
Not bad from stable boy Dowling in 1913 to Major Albert Dowling VC DSO MC MM in 1918! BUT! I would have given the whole lot up to be a stable boy again when I was 15 and Lord Jonathan of Penton came into my life.
After the reception I went to my room and got into bed and for the first time since I saw those two together, I simply broke down and at last cried my heart out and just could not stop. It went on for a very long time and my whole body convulsed as I sobbed and sobbed. It seemed to go on for hours but gradually the tears subsided and even knowing I was totally drained I had one thought before falling asleep… I still loved him and I knew I would love him for the rest of my days. But Jonnie had gone his way and therefore I had to go mine.
I was back before the rest of them and when they eventually turned up they looked as though they could do with a rest! Whatever happened in Paris they were in a bad physical state. But as soon as they saw me, another party began and for the first time in my life I got pissed! Utterly and hopelessly pissed!
I led many more attacks for the next month until one day a rather senior officer came into my office to inform me my war was over and I was being sent home and had to report to the newly formed Air Ministry in London. I would now be flying a desk until the war ended, or so I thought.
On 6th June I sat behind my desk and wondered what to do next, I had no idea what the hell “Strategic Planning” was so I wrote to my father instead of trying to find out.
The next day a Robert Scott-Walters was shown in, who I was expecting. He was a reporter from the Times and I had agreed to tell him my story. In fact I didn’t have a choice, I was more or less told I had too! However, Robert turned out to be a very nice chap and got out of me my whole story which was published in the following Sunday edition which included a photo.
Robert respected my wish not to be written as some sort of hero, just plain facts.
“Robert, the real heroes are dead and unfortunately many more of them are yet to die.”
I may have had a problem with all that was happening around me but I did not allow it to show. It was not good for morale!
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