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Over the Front in an Aeroplane and Scenes Inside t

The machines in their great hangars


Our

whole progress through the hospital was a strange conglomeration of pathos and farce. For the Surgeon in Command, on our being introduced to him, stated that he was the proud possessor of an orderly who spoke the English tongue "a merveille." Our staff-officers politely indicated to him that our own French, though not perhaps up to Comedie Francaise standards, was no mean thing, and would render his explanations entirely comprehensible to us. But these hints were of no avail. The accomplishments of his linguistic prodigy must not be wasted. So the orderly was produced and turned out to be master of the most grotesquely unintelligible English that I have ever listened to.

As we passed between the lines of cots, each with its still figure huddled under its gray blanket, as we were followed about by the wondering gaze of the many eyes which look so incredibly large in the wasted faces of the wounded, we had to listen to the explanations of the Chief Surgeon, and then lend our ears to the burblings of the orderly exterpreting them for our benefit. Even when we stood in the modest little graveyard where those who had died of their wounds were buried we were torn between tears and grins by the attentions of the excellent man whom, I am ashamed to say, Eyre and I had christened "the pest," and by the embarrassed writhings of our staff-officers who spoke such excellent English that they thoroughly realized the situation.

Having

spent perhaps three-quarters of an hour in the hospital, which, judged by the somewhat unexacting French standards, seemed efficiently run, we departed for the first impromptu engagement of the day--the studies of a class in grenade-throwing, which met not very far from the hospital, and which I have elsewhere described in detail.

After an hour devoted to this exceedingly interesting experience, we were whirled away to a distant appointment with another General of an Army Corps. He led us to the flat roof of his headquarters, from which at some distance he pointed out a third installment of the trenches continuing from about the point where they had that morning run out of sight, and from that point stretching along the Craonne plateau, nearly to Soissons.

Having terminated a fifteen-minute meeting with this extremely courteous General, the next number on our programme was the inspection of an aviation "esquadrille" or squadron.

On our way, however, we stopped unexpectedly to look at a most beautiful new anti-aircraft "seventy-five," a gun numbers of which the French had just completed and were bringing to the front. As I was not allowed to photograph the gun even from a distance and was enjoined to regard its details as absolutely confidential, I can only say that, mounted on its own motor, it could travel along the roads at forty kilometres an hour; that it could be in action within one minute and a half after coming to a stop, and that the way the turning of a couple of little cranks which a child could whirl made the heavy muzzle swing, and mount, and cut figure eights in the air, was something wholly incredible.

We listened to a technical but most interesting exposition by the Artillery Captain of the most up-to-date methods of firing at aeroplanes, including the progressive and retrogressive systems, and then sped away to the aviation field some ten or fifteen kilometres distant. We found the aviation squadron on a very large field near the top of a gradually sloping bare hill, comfortably installed, the machines in their great hangars, the aviators in their small tents. The whole organization was especially adapted for mobility. In one hour, at need, the field would have left on it not a man, a stick or a shred of the encampment. Hangars and tents would be careering along some highroad, neatly folded in the big aviation lorries that stood handy, mechanics would be sitting on the box seats or have their legs dangling over the tail-boards, while pilots and observers would waft themselves more comfortably by air to their new camp site.


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