A pilots' war
To France with No 2 Squadron RFC 1915
This section records Capt. Smith's time with No 2 Squadron based at Merville then at Hesdigneul, France. This period was to mark the start of the German "Fokker scourge" and No 2 Squadron was involved in the early encounters. The diary is quoted verbatim.
No 2 Squadron was equipped with BE2 aircraft and undertook reconnaissance and artillery observation work. It was in the period recorded here that the RFC became significantly more capable in artillery observation with the introduction of suitable wireless sets and the clock code to indicate target positions. Reconnaissance work was increasingly recognised and appreciated by Army Headquarters; the now static frontlines enabled detailed plotting of trench systems and enemy gun positions.
Apr 1st Thurs:
Reported at RFC Administrative Wing Headquarters Farnboro' Received instructions to proceed to France at once on new B.E.2c machine & deliver it at Headquarters St Omer.
Apr 2nd Fri:
Start at 10.30 (1671) with intention of only landing at Folkestone if necessary. Made insufficient allowance for wind (steered by compass intending to strike main railway line at Reigate) was carried North over Brooklands, landed & took fresh bearing. Arrived at Folkestone 12.30. Landed to fill up with petrol and oil. No 7 Squadron had already arrived that morning from Netheravon, their CO considered it too misty in the channel to cross. Took rooms at Leas Hotel. Lt. Anne [Lt. C E I C Anne KOYLI], left CFS with me also taking machine to France landed at Folkestone.
Apr 8th Thurs:
Weather did not clear until yesterday. It was still cloudy this morning but we decided to cross if possible after lunch. There were 14 machines in all, ready to start 8 REs , 3 Vickers Gun machines, 2 BE2c's, 1 Avro. I was about seventh to leave ground - found it very gusty. On reaching 6,000 ft headed across channel - bearing 160 . Half way across I entered a cloud, on emerging three minutes later saw Cap Gris Nez directly in front of me. Followed coast to Calais and railway from Calais to St Omer.
One RE machine smashed up when getting off the ground at Folkestone & was burnt. Two of the Vickers machines did not arrive nor the other BE2c piloted by Eichermain.
Remained for tea at Headquarters and was sent by car to Headquarters No 1 Wing at Aire. After having dinner there came on by tender to No 2 Squadron at Merville, arriving 10.00 p.m. Slept at mess.
No 2 Squadron RFC, Merville, France
Apr 9th Fri:
Reported to CO No 2 Sqn. at aerodrome, situated about midway between Merville and La Gorgue. Surprised to find CO to be Maj. Webb Bowen who was Assistant Commandant at CFS when I first arrived there.
Am posted to 'B' Flight, the machines of which are fitted with wireless sending apparatus. Capt. [Wilfred] Freeman flight commander. Meals during the day are taken in a farmhouse nearby, but dinner at the Mess in Merville in the evenings.
Apr 10th Sat:
Am taken for a joy ride by de Havilland to see the country around. I got my first glimpse of the trenches from Neuve Chappelle-north to Bois Grenier.
[Editors note: Lt. Hereward de Havilland brother of Geoffrey the Chief Aircraft Designer at the Royal Aircraft Factory and designer of the DH aircraft.]
BE2 of NO. 2 Sqn RFC
Apr 11th Sun:
Machine No.336 B.E.2a is handed over to me. I take my first flight and practice landing in the aerodrome which is rather difficult as it is bounded on one side by canal which has a row of trees along it except where they are cut away opposite the aerodrome.
At 5.30 this morning I went out with the wireless tender to the 119th Batty of 4.7 guns, to see it fire & note how messages were received from the aeroplane observing for it.
Apr 12th Mon:
Practiced sending wireless messages from aeroplane.
Apr 13th Tues.
Took up Sergeant to tune in wireless, my first passenger.
Apr 14th Wed:
Observing artillery fire, passenger Lt. Whiteman, Neuve Chapelle & Bois de Biez. Fired at by 'Archie' for first time. (from Log)
Apr 15th Thurs:
Took up Lt. Whiteman as observer to work with artillery. As clouds came up we were obliged to descend.
No. 2 Sqn RFC Officers including Lt. Moorhouse VC
BE2b 666 behind
No. 2 Sqn RFC Officers (?May 1915):
Back row: Secker, Wallace, Whiteman, Leighton, Milne, Lees, Smith
Front row: Collins, Lloyd, Sweet, James
Apr 16th Fri:
Whiteman as passenger observed for 119th Batty, we were fired at by German anti aircraft guns the shells of which are known here as "Archies"
Apr 17th Sat:
Went up alone to observe for artillery, wireless apparatus went wrong (belt came off dynamo) was obliged to descend.
Apr 18th Sun:
Slept at aerodrome last night being Orderly Officer, and did the early reconnaissance, with Lt Ashly as passenger. The area reconnoitred was Bois Grenier-Armentieres-Lille-Beaucamps-Fournes-Herlies-Bois de Biez-Aubers. We were heavily fired at but not hit.
At 3.45 I went up on BE2C machine of Lt. Smith to observe targets at Herlies, Fournes & Fromeiles for 119 Batty. Was fired at constantly while doing target at Herlies, but moved further north for target at Fournes & was not fired at. While doing target at Fromeiles engine commenced to misfire and I was obliged to return. It was a treat to fly a BE2c again after the 2a of my own.
Apr 19th Mon:
Last night I noticed a rash on my body which was more pronounced this morning. I visited the hospital at 7.15 and was examined by a doctor who told me I had measles. I have been detained in hospital, - shall probably be sent to base.
The weather is perfect and it is annoying to think that I have to stay indoors, more so as I do not feel particularly unwell, except for a slight cold. The room I am in is bare except for a bed, made up of army blankets - no sheets, a wooden table about 2'6" X 1'6" covered with white American cloth, two wooden chairs, and a large open fireplace with no grate.
May 1st Sat:
Was sent to base hospital later in day of April 19th. Travelled in train from Merville to Boulogne with Lt. Gracey 1st Munster Fusiliers. From Boulogne Station we were taken in an ambulance van to Wimereux, all hospitals being full we were lodged in a temporary hospital in rooms above the casino garage. There were about twenty fellows there altogether all with measles, & others in tents in the compound with mumps. Nine of us messed together all very nice fellows.
After the first three days we obtained permission from the Colonel to play golf, which we did most days on the Golf Club de Boulogne, at Wimereux.
May 2nd Sun:
Granted sick leave & proceeded home by boat leaving Boulogne 3.0 pm arriving Dover 4.50 pm. It took a considerable time to entrain all the wounded, and we did not arrive London, Charing Cross, until 10 pm. Col. Wiltshire, Lt. Gracey. Lt. Moony & I had travelled across together & were sent by cars on reaching London to the City of London Military Hospital, in Honerton, - what was before the London workhouse infirmary, there we spent the night.
Copyright © 2004 in the diary text and photos from 1915 and 1916 is held by Major Smith's family. Copyright © 2004 www.airwar1.org.uk