Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
 A WIND that whistled between the planes, strummed like a harper upon struts and wiring, and drove sheets of
water into the aviator, as he sped in the teeth of the storm—such was the accompaniment to one
of the fine feats of Captain R. H. G. Neville (Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry and R.F.C.), a
member of the air patrol between British and enemy trenches.
The Captain's work was to scare off any enemy machines, or, if they were not to be scared off, then
to fight them off; in any case, they were not to be permitted to get behind the British lines and
fix prying eyes upon what was being done there.
On this particular day in the latter part of 1916, Captain Neville, who was one of our most skilful
pilots, found his task exceedingly difficult. To remain up in such a stormy
 wind was in itself no easy achievement: add to that the constant vigil necessary in case some daring
foe should manage to slip past the patrol, and you have all the elements of a most exciting
experience! Despite the fact that he was wrapped up to the very top of his head, with only his eyes
showing through his goggles, Captain Neville was by no means so comfortable physically as he could
wish; and without doubt the lonely, uninteresting patrol was just a little monotonous—until
the droning of the engine, striving, as it were, to outdo the noise of the storm, was broken by what
seemed to be a hurricane of sound. A quick glance showed Captain Neville something which almost took
away his breath: plunging out of the storm was a big enemy 'plane, which had succeeded in getting
quite close before being seen.
For a moment it seemed to Captain Neville that the end of all things had come, because when he
sighted the enemy the two machines were so close that it appeared impossible to avoid a collision,
and the strength of the storm caused the Captain to fear that his
 machine might not answer quickly enough to the touch on the levers.
Captain Neville gave his controls a jerk which made the aeroplane shiver from end to end; the
machine banked steeply, and standing at a dangerous angle, drove round—and as it did so, the
enemy aeroplane swept by, the planes of it barely missing the British machine.
And then, before his opponent could grasp what was in the mind of the Britisher, the latter had
completed the circle and, coming back, was opening out at the enemy machine. Captain Neville had the
advantage of position, and raked the foe fore and aft so plentifully and with such accuracy that his
opponent, finding he had entirely lost the advantage of surprise, turned and, giving up all hope of
crossing the British lines, made off toward his own.
Then began a stern chase. Captain Neville, when he saw the enemy turn tail, realized that he was
probably suffering badly from ' cold feet,' and he resolved to pursue him to the bitter end. Out and
away from the British
 lines, the enemy tore through the rain; after him went the Captain, hanging grimly just behind his
tail, like some vengeful bird relentless in pursuit of a monster foe. Showing grey through the
driving rain, the earth seemed to be receding at a terrific rate. Although he could see but little,
Captain Neville was quickly notified when he was over the German lines; for the appearance of the
two machines scudding along, the aeroplane marked with the tri-coloured target chasing the one with
the black cross, showed the men at the 'Archies' that one of their own kin was in danger. They
immediately opened fire at the British machine, and the rat-tat-tatting of Captain Neville's Lewis
gun was drowned by the crash of bursting shells.
In spite of the shells the Captain still held on—held on like grim death; and though he tried
every device, the enemy could not shake him off. Captain Neville was running a dreadful gauntlet of
fire, and many a gun which had almost found the ever-changing range, narrowly missed bringing the
chase to a sudden end. The enemy fled over batteries
 with whose position he was conversant, in the hope that the pursuer might be hit and brought down in
flames; but the Britisher flinched from nothing, and seemed to be invulnerable! On and on through
the never-ceasing storm, far over the German lines, until at last Captain Neville realized that his
quarry was gliding for earth. That meant one of several things: the enemy's petrol had given out; or
perhaps he was nearing his home aerodrome; or again, it might be that he was utterly scared and was
going down, taking all chance where he landed.
As the scenery below grew more distinct, Captain Neville saw that the second of these conjectures
was the correct one; for presently there loomed the hangars of an aerodrome, toward which the foe
was frantically making. The British pilot now called upon his engine for every ounce of power, as he
was determined to bring his quarry to bay; and after a few anxious moments caused by the guns below,
he succeeded in doing so. He went into the attack with a vehemence that startled the German, who,
finding that at last he must
 fight, replied ineffectually to the fire of his rival; and eventually Captain Neville, by a sharp
manoeuvre, obtained the advantage of position, from which he emptied a belt of cartridges into his
opponent, whose machine was so badly mauled that it began to drop. The Captain, following it down as
far as it was discreet to do, had the gratification of seeing it crash to earth, half a mile from
The chase had not been in vain, and for this and much other fine work on patrol, Captain Neville
received his Military Cross.
Here is a brief story, but one which contains heroism and drama as full-blooded as many a longer
Captain Dixon (Yorks L.I. and R.F.C.), scouring the air on what may be called offensive patrol,
adopted tactics with which he completely hoodwinked a certain German airman who fell into a most
distressing trap. The gallant Captain, whose task was to keep the enemy from getting over the
British lines, instead of going for this particular Hun in the regular British fashion of pressing
home a stiff attack,
 cunningly led that German on a wild-goose chase through the skies, behaving generally in such a
manner that Herr Hun firmly believed that his antagonist was scarcely worthy of his mettle; yet,
every British bird bagged was one less to annoy the 'brass hats ' in the rear of the German lines.
Therefore, the German swooped upon Captain Dixon, and showering his bullets all about the machine,
fully expected to see the tricolour-marked plane go hurtling to the ground. But a far different
thing from that happened.
Captain Dixon, with the knowledge that a couple of other British machines were up after the Teuton,
had deliberately turned himself into a decoy; and all his strange antics—his fighting and
flying away, his apparent helplessness and his evident nervousness, which made the German sure of
him—had been most admirable fooling, deliberately designed to lead the enemy on, distract his
attention, and allow the two other planes to get well above without being seen.
The design succeeded beyond the Captain's hopes. The British planes, tiny specks in
 the distance, mounted higher and higher, and through their binoculars the occupants could just see
the chase taking place. Up and up, and still up they soared, till they were lost in the
void—and never an inkling did the Teuton have of the swift destruction awaiting him.
All his attention was taken up by the foe who was so hopelessly out-matched in every way; never was
man so surprised as he when, as though from nowhere, there came two smothering storms of shot which
tore through fuselage and planes and—worse than all—struck his engine and petrol tank,
so that he went spinning down.
And, as his rival fell, Captain Dixon's machine performed queer antics in the air to celebrate the
triumph, in the which there presently joined the two victorious aeroplanes which he had so cunningly
Second-Lieutenant H. S. Shield, R.F.C., won his Military Cross on September 13th, 1915, by attacking
a German Albatross when flying over Bois-de-Biez. He was 10,000 feet up, when his observer, Corporal
 sighted the Albatross flying some 3000 feet below. Losing no time, the British machine dived to the
attack. As it dropped, the 'Archies' were crashing furiously, and the machine seemed to be slipping
through a maze of bursting shells, which fortunately did no damage, so that Lieutenant Shield was
able to get into contact with the Albatross, a biplane whose Mercedes engine could drive her along
at a terrific pace and whose machine-gun was mounted in such a way that it could be brought into
action at almost any angle. "Very conveniently mounted," the official report says of that gun, and
it called for considerable skill on the part of Lieutenant Shield to manoeuvre his machine so that
Corporal Bennett could attack with the minimum of risk from the stream of bullets which the German
gunner was pouring in. The British machine swept down, then circled to the assault. The German
sailed on, but the Britishers were relentless, hanging on to the cross-marked tail and splattering
their shots upon the body of the Albatross, and trying to hit the engine, which was almost
completely covered in.
 Not the least part of Lieutenant Shield's work lay in steering his machine so that the Albatross
should serve as a protection from the German anti-aircraft guns, and in evading tricks of the
Albatross to lure him to positions where the 'Archies' could get him. The Lewis gun chattered away,
the bullets 'pinked' all about the Albatross, dotted its wings with holes, and—best of
all—struck the machine in a vital part. Of a sudden, Corporal Bennett saw it make a dramatic
side-slip, saw its pilot endeavour to right it before that fatal second came when worse should
befall; and then, as all the German's efforts failed, the Albatross tilted up its tail, stood on its
nose—and dived through 7000 feet, crashing to earth inside the British lines!
Captain Leslie R. Aizlewood (Yorkshire and Lancashire Rifles, attached to R.F.C.) swept along on his
aerial duties between the German and British lines, with shell-holed 'No Man's Land' scudding
beneath him, the boom of far-off guns trembling in the air and 'woolly bears' breaking into
fantastic shapes as the
 'Archies' barked angrily. He was on patrol work, which called for eyes everywhere, lest out of the
blue depths enemy machines should suddenly swoop and effect his destruction, or endeavour to slip
past him and fly over our lines to spot certain things which the High Command desired to keep from
For a while the Captain saw nothing out of the ordinary, heard nothing more ominous than the roar of
his engine and the muffled thunder of the opposing artillery, then there abruptly appeared, as it
were from nowhere, five machines, heading directly for the British lines. Their appearance was the
signal for Captain Aizlewood to pull his 'joy-stick,' manipulate his elevators, and so drive his
machine higher than the oncoming aeroplanes, on whose wings were clearly marked the black crosses of
the Hun. Up and up he went, while the Germans winged forward and in due course swept under the
watchful pilot, whose idea had been to get between the Germans and their lines, and drive them back.
With his Lewis gun ready, Captain Aizlewood was waiting for them, and with his engine going
 all out, he dived at an appalling speed at one of the foes.
Resisting the temptation to fire as he dropped, Captain Aizlewood, in order to make sure of his
victim, held his fire until he was within so short a distance as twenty yards; then he let his Lewis
gun spit its vicious rain of bullets, sweeping the German machine from tip to tip, plugging holes
here and there, snapping contact wires, and damaging the aeroplane so effectually that its pilot
lost control. The machine tilted and side-slipped, and then began to nose-dive—the beginning
of the end of another enemy.
But the tale is not finished. That downward sweep to such close quarters, and the amazing success of
the firing, held elements of danger for Captain Aizlewood, who—so much is aerial fighting a
matter of seconds—could not flatten out quickly enough to soar triumphantly over the now
helpless enemy but went plunging down toward it. A breathless moment indeed! It is easy to imagine
the cool-headed Captain manipulating the levers of fate and the wires of life and death
 in the hope of flattening out before the coming of what might be a fatal collision. But it was not
to be: the British machine sped through the short space intervening, its wildly revolving propeller
caught in the enemy aeroplane, there was a ripping and tearing, a deafening, maddening roar of
engines, something went flying into space—it was part of Aizlewood's propeller—and then,
the astonished pilot found his machine free from that of his victim, and the latter went on its way
It was an unenviable plight in which the British aviator now found himself. His propeller was
broken, his machine had received considerable mauling in that terrific mid-air collision, and
somewhere in the blue were four other German airmen who would jump at the chance of tackling what
they would consider a lame duck. Captain Aizlewood, his head clear as ever, tested his machine as
best he could, found that it was not altogether out of control, although very nearly so, and with
the British lines in front of and below him, the airman headed for the ground. It was a descent
perilous enough to try the strongest nerves; and yet,
 with a machine that would not readily answer to touch, and that indeed might at any moment refuse to
answer at all and so send him nose-diving to death, he swept toward the uprushing ground—and
made a safe landing!
"For conspicuous gallantry and skill," began the official paragraph which announced the award of the
Military Cross to the intrepid aviator.