Beneath the canvas of a huge hangar mechanicians are at work
on the motor of an airplane. Outside, on the borders of an
aviation field, others loiter awaiting their aërial charge's
return from the sky. Near the hangar stands a hut-shaped tent. In
front of it several short-winged biplanes are lined up; inside it
three or four young men are lolling in wicker chairs.
They wear the uniform of French army aviators. These uniforms,
and the grim-looking machine guns mounted on the upper planes of
the little aircraft, are the only warlike note in a pleasantly
peaceful scene. The war seems very remote. It is hard to believe
that the greatest of all battles--Verdun--rages only twenty-five
miles to the north, and that the field and hangars and
mechanicians and aviators and airplanes are all playing a part
Suddenly there is the distant hum of a motor. One of the
pilots emerges from the tent and gazes fixedly up into the blue
sky. He points, and one glimpses a black speck against the blue,
high overhead. The sound of the motor ceases, and the speck grows
larger. It moves earthward in steep dives and circles, and as it
swoops closer, takes on the shape of an airplane. Now one can
make out the red, white, and blue circles under the wings which
mark a French war-plane, and the distinctive insignia of the
pilot on its sides.
"Ton patron arrive!" one mechanician cries to another.
"Your boss is coming!"
The machine dips sharply over the top of a hangar, straightens
out again near the earth at a dizzy speed a few feet above it
and, losing momentum in a surprisingly short time, hits the
ground with tail and wheels. It bumps along a score of yards and
then, its motor whirring again, turns, rolls toward the hangar,
and stops. A human form, enveloped in a species of garment for
all the world like a diver's suit, and further adorned with
goggles and a leather hood, rises unsteadily in the cockpit,
clambers awkwardly overboard and slides down to terra firma.
A group of soldiers, enjoying a brief holiday from the
trenches in a cantonment near the field, straggle forward and
gather timidly about the airplane, listening open-mouthed for
what its rider is about to say.
"Hell!" mumbles that gentleman, as he starts divesting himself
of his flying garb.
"What's wrong now?" inquires one of the tenants of the
"Everything, or else I've gone nutty," is the indignant reply,
delivered while disengaging a leg from its Teddy Bear trousering.
"Why, I emptied my whole roller on a Boche this morning, point
blank at not fifteen metres off. His machine gun quit firing and
his propeller wasn't turning and yet the darn fool just hung up
there as if he were tied to a cloud. Say, I was so sure I had him
it made me sore--felt like running into him and yelling, 'Now,
you fall, you bum!'"
The eyes of the poilus register surprise. Not a word of
this dialogue, delivered in purest American, is intelligible to
them. Why is an aviator in a French uniform speaking a foreign
tongue, they mutually ask themselves. Finally one of them, a
little chap in a uniform long since bleached of its horizon-blue
colour by the mud of the firing line, whisperingly interrogates a
mechanician as to the identity of these strange air folk.
"But they are the Americans, my old one," the latter explains
with noticeable condescension.
Marvelling afresh, the infantrymen demand further details.
They learn that they are witnessing the return of the American
Escadrille--composed of Americans who have volunteered to fly for
France for the duration of the war--to their station near
Bar-le-Duc, twenty-five miles south of Verdun, from a flight over
the battle front of the Meuse. They have barely had time to
digest this knowledge when other dots appear in the sky, and one
by one turn into airplanes as they wheel downward. Finally all
six of the machines that have been aloft are back on the ground
and the American Escadrille has one more sortie over the German
lines to its credit.