Friday, May 29, 2015


Saturday, October 28th was the second consecutive day of high winds, rain, and heavy cloud, dreadful weather that grounded much of the RFC on the Somme. Undaunted, 24 attempted two patrols that day. Returning from a solo OP that morning, Saundby, whose engine was giving him trouble, fought a west wind so strong he could barely make headway against it. Low on fuel, he landed at Morlancourt, home to No. 9 Squadron. After refueling and some repairs, he clawed his way the remaining twenty miles west to Bertangles, arriving late but intact, no doubt much to relief of his squadron mates.  The weather had hardly improved by 3 PM, when McKay and Knight alighted in the rain on a defensive patrol. High winds, dense cloud cover and what Knight described as intermittent “gales and storms” led another pilot to think them “impertinent” for flying at all. Worse still, McKay’s engine was acting up, and he had already returned to the aerodrome once with a dud engine to switch machines. Buffeted by wind, rain, and sleet, he had a horrid flight through frigid grey skies over a devastated grey landscape, nursing his engine, sputtering along at 7000 feet, 1500 below and behind Knight, unable to climb higher. Beneath them, the armies hunkered down in their waterlogged trenches, wearily and grimly bracing themselves for the denouement of the Somme battle. 

By 3:40 PM, McKay and Knight reached the town of Pozieres. In July and August twenty-three thousand Australians had been killed or wounded wresting the town and its adjacent ridge from the Germans in a series of violently contest assaults. Now it lay in shell-pocked ruins.  On the two Canadians pressed, flying through cloud and rain. Then, peering into the distance, McKay spotted a single German machine, well below them to the north. It was a tempting target, but experienced pilots knew that this sort of thing was often a trap, designed to lure reckless newcomers into formations of scouts lurking at high altitudes. Scanning the sky above, McKay saw them between the clouds: nearly an entire squadron at 10,000 feet. “Halberstadter and brown scouts,” he called them in the squadron record book, but they were in fact the new Albatros fighters, faster than the DH.2 and mounting twice its firepower. Knight had seen them, too. Probably both men had guessed their identity. This was 24’s arch-nemesis, Jagdstaffel Zwei, and after five minutes of pursuit, half a dozen of them, led by Oswald Boelcke himself, slipped to the side and came screaming down upon them. 

From Eddie: The Life and Times of A.E. McKay, Royal Flying Corps (in process)