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THE RED FIGHTER PILOT

Chapter 3 - Boredom Before Verdun


I am a restless spirit. Consequently my activity in front of Verdun can only be described as boresome. At the beginning I was in the trenches at a spot where nothing happened. Then I became a dispatch bearer and hoped to have some adventures. But there I was mistaken. The fighting men immediately degraded me and considered me a Base-hog. I was not really at the Base but I was not allowed to advance further than within 1500 yards behind the front trenches. There, below the ground, I had a bomb-proof, heated habitation. Now and then I had to go to the front trenches. That meant great physical exertion, for one had to trudge uphill and downhill, crisscross, through an unending number of trenches and mire-holes until at last one arrived at a place where men were firing. After having paid a short visit to the fighting men, my position seemed to me a very stupid one.

At that time the digging business was beginning. It had not yet become clear to us what it means to dig approaches and endless trenches. Of course, we knew the names of the various ditches and holes through the lessons which we had received at the War Academy. However, the digging was considered to be the business of the military engineers. Other troops were supposed not to take a hand in it. Here, near Combres, everyone was digging industriously. Every soldier had a spade and a pick and took all imaginable trouble in order to get as deeply into the ground as possible. It was very strange that in many places the French were only five yards ahead of us. One could hear them speak and see them smoke cigarettes and now and then they threw us a piece of paper. We conversed with them, but nevertheless, we tried to annoy them in every possible way, especially with hand grenades.

Five hundreds yards in front of us and five hundred yards behind the trenches the dense forest of the Cote Lorraine had been cut down by the vast number of shells and bullets which were fired unceasingly. It seemed unbelievable that in front men could live. Nevertheless, the men in the front trenches were not in as bad a position as the men at the Base.

After a morning visit to the front trenches, which usually took place at the earliest hours of the day, the more tedious business began. I had to attend to the telephone.

On days when I was off duty I indulged in my favorite pastime, game shooting. The forest of La Chaussee gave me ample opportunities. When going for a ride I had noticed that there were wild pigs about and I tried to find out where I could shoot them at night. Beautiful nights, with a full moon and snow, came to my aid. With the assistance of my servant, I built a shelter seat in a tree, at a spot where the pigs passed, and waited there at night. Thus I passed many a night sitting on the branch of a tree and on the next morning found that I had become an icicle. However, I got my reward. There was a sow which was particularly interesting. Every night she swam across the lake, broke into a potato field, always at the same spot, and then she swam back again. Of course I very much wished to improve my acquaintance with the animal. So I took a seat on the other shore of the lake. In accordance with our previous arrangement, Auntie Pig appeared at midnight for her supper. I shot her while she was still swimming and she would have been drowned had I not succeeded at the last moment in seizing her by the leg.

At another time, I was riding with my servant along a narrow path. Suddenly I saw several wild pigs crossing it. Immediately I jumped from the horse, grasped my servant's carbine and rushed several hundred yards ahead. At the end of the procession came a mighty boar. I had never yet seen such a beast and was surprised at its gigantic size. Now it ornaments my room and reminds me of my encounter.

In this manner I passed several months when, one fine day, our division became busy. We intended a small attack. I was delighted, for now at last I should be able to do something as a connecting link! But there came another disappointment! I was given quite a different job and now I had enough of it. I sent a letter to my Commanding General and evil tongues report that I told him: "My dear Excellency! I have not gone to war in order to collect cheese and eggs, but for another purpose." At first, the people above wanted to snarl at me. But then they fulfilled my wish. Thus I joined the Flying Service at the end of May, 1915. My greatest wish was fulfilled.

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