Billy Barcroft, R.N.A.S.: A Story of the Great War (fb2)

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Project Gutenberg's Billy Barcroft, R.N.A.S., by Percy F. Westerman This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at Title: Billy Barcroft, R.N.A.S. A story of the Great War Author: Percy F. Westerman Release Date: February 22, 2011 [EBook #35362] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. *** Produced by R.G.P.M. van Giesen



















First Published December, 1917

Reprinted 1928, 1929, 1930


THE GREAT WAR OF 1914 opened the floodgates of hatred between the nations which took part and this stirring story, written when feelings were at their highest, conveys a true impression of the attitude adopted towards our enemies. No epithet was considered too strong for a German and whilst the narrative thus conveys the real atmosphere and conditions under which the tragic event was fought out it should be borne in mind that the animosities engendered by war are now happily a thing of the past, Therefore, the reader, whilst enjoying to the full this thrilling tale, will do well to remember that old enmities have passed away and that we are now reconciled to the Central Powers who were opposed to us.




Two Bells of the First Dog Watch somewhere in the North Sea.

To be a little more definite it was bordering that part of the North Sea that merges into the narrow Straits of Dover and almost within range of the German shore batteries of Zeebrugge.

It was mid-October. The equinoctial gales had not yet arrived to convert the placid surface of the sea into a regular turmoil of short, broken waves. Hardly a ripple ruffled the long gentle undulations. Not a cloud obscured the sky. The slanting rays of the sun played uninterruptedly upon the sloping deck of H.M. Seaplane Carrier "Hippodrome" as she forged slowly ahead, surrounded by an escort of long, lean destroyers.

Her day's work was apparently over. The operations against the Zeebrugge defences—operations of almost a daily occurrence—had been carried out according to orders. The observation "kite" balloon had been hauled down and stowed in the "Hippodrome's" after-well; her brood of seaplanes had, save one, returned from their task of "spotting" for the guns of the monitors, and everything had been made snug for the run back to her base. She awaited only the reappearance of the stray "duckling" to increase speed for home waters.

"Billy's getting properly strafed, I fancy," remarked Flight-Lieutenant John Fuller as the distant growl of innumerable "antis" reverberated in the still air. "Wonder what the deuce he's doing? When we swung about over Position 445 he was heading almost due east."

"Billy won't suffer from cold feet," rejoined his companion—"a regular glutton for work. Give him a chance for a stunt (bombing raid) and he's all there. For a mere youngster, I say, he's——"

Further remarks concerning the rashness of Billy—otherwise Flight-sub-lieutenant Barcroft—were postponed by the appearance of yet another member of the "Hippodrome's" flying-officers.

"Young Barcroft's just tick-tocked through," he announced. "He's on his way back. Cool cheek, by Jove! Keeping the crowd of us waiting while he's joy-riding somewhere in the direction of Berlin. Wonder how far he went?"

From where they stood, just abaft the starboard funnel-casing, the officers scanned the horizon. The "Hippodrome," like most of her sisters, had at one time been a liner, but the building up of a launching-platform for seaplanes had resulted in considerable alterations to her external and internal appearance. Amongst other things she now had two funnels abreast and far apart in place of her original foremost one, in order to give full scope to the inclined plane that extended from her bows to within a few feet of the navigation bridge—a piece of new construction perched at least 150 feet further aft than the old bridge and chart-room of pre-war days.

The clank of a steam winch and the swinging overhead of a long steel derrick announced the fact that preparations were being made to welcome home the "stray bird." Although a seaplane could be launched with ease from the sloping platform, on her return she would have to alight in the water and "taxi" alongside her parent ship. Hence the necessity for a long and powerful derrick to swing the seaplane, with its broad expanse of wings, clear of the ship's side and deposit it carefully upon deck.

"Here he comes!" exclaimed Fuller, indicating a faint object in the eastern sky.

Rapidly it resolved itself into a large biplane with triple floats in place of the three landing wheels that form a necessary adjunct to army aeroplanes. Then the polished wood propeller, glinting in the oblique rays of the sun, could be discerned as it slowed down preparatory to the seaplane commencing a thousand feet glide.

With a succession of splashes the biplane took the water, "bringing up" with admirable judgment at a distance of less than fifty yards from the starboard quarter of the parent ship.

The seaplane carried a crew of two. The pilot pushing up a pair of goggles revealed a fresh-looking, clean-cut face that gave one the impression of a public school boy. Billy Barcroft was still in his teens. He had just another month to enter into his twentieth year. In height he was a fraction under five feet ten inches; weight—an important consideration from an airman's point of view—was "ten seven." Supple and active, he carried not an ounce of superfluous flesh. Standing up and lightly grasping a stay, he swayed naturally to the slight lift of the seaplane—the personification of that product of the Twentieth Century, the airman.

His companion, who had just completed the "winding in" of the trailing aerial, raised his head above the coaming surrounding the observer's seat. In appearance he resembled Barcroft so strongly-that the pair might have been taken for twin-brothers. But no relationship, save the ties of friendship and duty, existed betwixt Billy Barcroft and his observer, Bobby Kirkwood. The latter was an Assistant Paymaster, who, deserting the ship's office for the freedom of the air, had already mastered the intricacies of "wireless" and other qualifications necessary for the responsible duties of observer.

"You've been a jolly long time, you belated bird!" shouted Fuller in mock reproof. "What's the stunt?"

"Couldn't help it," replied Barcroft with a broad grin. "If you were in my place and saw a crowd of Hun Staff officers pushing along in motor-cars wouldn't your idea of courtesy lead you to pay them a little attention? Kirkwood gave 'em a couple of plums and a whole drum. Result—a slight increase in the Hun death-rate."

Barcroft had, in fact, gone well inland over the German batteries, on a sort of informal joy-ride. From a height of 5,000 feet the observer had spotted what appeared to be a motor convoy bowling along the road between Zeebrugge and Bruges. With a daring bordering on recklessness the pilot had vol-planed down to within two hundred feet, greatly to the consternation of the grey-cloaked German Staff officers, who, leaving the shelter of their steelroofed cars, scurried with loss of dignity for the safety that was denied most of them. For with admirable precision Kirkwood had dropped two bombs fairly into the line of cars, following up the attack by firing a whole drum of ammunition from the Lewis

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