Part 4 – Aerial Adventures of Lieutenant Horace Caunt

Based in an airfield close to Ypres, Lt Caunt experiences his first serious action with the enemy.

Flying a patrol with ‘Tiny’ and Jimmie a squadron of Huns suddenly dived down on us. But Jimmie never wavered, just flew straight ahead, but when the Jerries were about 300 feet away from us, he went up into a steep climbing turn and before the Huns could escape the trap we were into them. Jimmie tackled the leader, putting a quick burst into his tail, sending him down, in a wobbly flight, right down to the ground.
We were, in fact, outnumbered, and things could have gone badly, but at the critical moment eight Camels roared into the fray and, catching the enemy unawares, three were swiftly shot down. Remembering my strict instructions I kept position, out of the way on top of the fight but suddenly saw ‘Tiny’ hard pressed with a Hun close on his tail. By some good fortune they passed bang in front of me and I let my gun roar. To my amazement the Hun machine shot up into the air and then spun and disappeared from my vision. Next moment I heard a rat-tat-tat behind me and one of my wing struts dissolved into splinters. Round I went with a Hun on my tail letting me have it from his guns, but the excitement of the fight had entered into my blood, and I was determined he wouldn’t have my scalp, and he didn’t for ‘Tiny ‘had turned in on the Hun’s tail and a blast from his guns got the Hun’s engine and he went down in flames, not a very pleasant sight, I must admit.
The battle was over now, our loss being one machine, but we had shot seven of theirs down. It was a very jubilant crowd who got back, but my joy was increased when I learnt that I had shot down the deputy leader, whose machine had fallen into our lines. It was a lucky burst that got him, but I was officially credited with my first Hun, and quietly congratulated by the Major. ‘Tiny’ just said  ‘Thanks old man, but don’t let it go to your head’. The next day ‘Tiny’ and I went to see the wreckage of the German machine, we brought back a souvenir to hang up in the mess. We also attended the funeral of the pilot who was buried with full military honours. I suffered strange emotions and was rather sad to see him buried. War seemed rather a rotten shame.
Early in December we had the biggest dog fight of the year. We started off as only eight strong, just returning from a patrol, possibly this was why Jimmy, our flight leader was caught napping for once. A large German patrol pounced upon us and, to my horror, I saw two of ours go down spinning, one of them in flames. It was every man for himself now and desperately we defended ourselves, banking round and round, steeper and steeper. I could hear bullets whining past and I expected any moment to receive a burst in the engine or into my body. Then, once again, a Hun appeared into my sights, to receive a full blast of lead, Smoke poured out of his and down he went flaming. I didn’t have time to follow him down having to turn desperately to defend myself from two Huns sitting on my tail. At the critical moment a flight of eight Camels entered the fray, quickly followed by twelve SE25s. Defence was now turned into attack, but another twenty Huns appeared from nowhere, quickly followed by the Australians in Sopworth Pups. From all accounts there were over eighty machines in the fight and was a wonderful sight for the men in the trenches who forgot all about their own fighting, and both stood up and cheered every time a plane came down. Two Australians crashed head on, both going down locked together, it was a terrible sight to behold. Round and round we still roared a machine going down here, another spinning down there. The whole sky seemed filled with whirling crazy aeroplanes. Slowly the Germans gave ground and eventually broke off the fight to run for home. We had also had enough and slowly limped home, only five left out of eight and what was left of us was badly shot about. The Germans lost twenty eight, we lost seventeen, so the final result was a hard won victory, but our adversaries had fought chivalrously and well they were a worthy foe.
Exhausted and very subdued I heaved myself out of the cockpit and went to look for ‘Tiny’, but my heart sank when I heard it was reported that he had failed to return. Restlessly I paced up and down the tarmac apron, smoking cigarette after cigarette. To help pass the time I counted the bullet holes in my machine, giving up the task when I reached forty. After waiting an hour I was forced to conclude that he was down, but that there was still hope he may be down on our side of the lines. The confirmation of my second Hun was poor consolation for the loss of my friend. Suddenly there was a void somewhere and nothing could fill his empty chair in the mess. Next morning I went through his kit and packed it ready to be sent home to his parents
After that my nature seemed to harden, My feelings towards the war became embittered, the fact of my being promoted to second in command of the flight and receiving a new machine failed to arouse any feelings of elation, but I certainly determined to baptise the machine with a Hun as soon as possible. After a time I felt ashamed of my resolve, it was the luck of the battle. ‘Tiny’ would have been first to tick me off for such rotten thoughts and feelings. Eventually I regained my spirits to the relief of my comrades who had borne patiently and sympathetically with me during my moody and bad tempered bout.
Two German planes had lately been doing a lot of work near our lines and my flight was detailed to get them. We spotted the enemy working at 6,000 feet east of Ypes. Using the sun we climbed above them to 9,000 feet and then dived, hoping to settle their activities. Holding my fire until the last moment I got a quick burst into the nearest one. The machine reared up, turned over and the dived for the ground, but another burst followed him, causing a wing to fall off, they crashed on their own side of the lines.
The second machine put his nose down and dived for the lines, and like a hungry pack of hounds my flight were after him, soon sending him down in flames. Our quick victory was too good to be true and we were not allowed to go unmolested, soon a flight of fifteen Huns roared down on us making us fight desperately to get back. Once again the Camels rescued us, downing four of the enemy. The rest quickly made off and we were allowed to proceed quietly home. We stood the Camel squadron a dinner the following week to show our appreciation for the many occasions they had pulled us out of the dirt.