Finally I was shown photographs of himself, chronologically arranged. Needless to say, it was not he who showed them. There was the half-nude baby, with eyes already sparkling and eager, then the schoolboy with the fine carriage of the head, then the lad fresh from school with a singularly calm expression, and well filled-out cheeks. A little later the expression appeared more mature and tense, though still ingenuous. Later again there was a decidedly stern look, with the face less oval and thinner. The rough fingers of war had chiseled this face, and sharpened and strengthened it. I looked from the picture to him, and I realized that, compared to his former pictures, his expression had now indeed acquired something terrible. But just then he laughed, and the laughter conjured away all phantasies.
As a tiny boy who had invented an enchanted bed for his sisters’ dolls, as a boy who, at College Stanislas, had rigged up a telephone to send messages to the last forms in the schoolroom, or manufactured miniature airplanes, as a recruit who, at Pau, had gladly accepted the work of cleaning, burnishing, and overhauling engines, Guynemer had always shown a passion for mechanics. Becoming a pilot, and later on a chaser, he exhibited in the study and perfecting of his airplanes the same enthusiasm and perseverance as in his flights. He was everlastingly calling for swifter or more powerful machines, and not only strove to communicate his own fervor to technicians, but went into minute details, suggested improvements, and whenever he had a chance visited the workshops and assisted at trials. Such trials are sometimes dangerous. One of his friends, Edouard de Layens, was killed in this kind of accident, and Guynemer was enraged that a gallant airman should perish otherwise than in battle. He was in reality an inventor, though this statement may cause surprise, and though it may not be wise at present to bear it out by facts.
Every part of his machine or of his gun was familiar to him. He had handled them all, taking them apart and putting them together again. There are practical improvements in modern airplanes which would not be there had it not been for him. And there is a “Guynemer visor.”
Confidence and authoritativeness had not come to him along with glory, for from the first he talked as one engrossed by his ideas, and it is because he was thus engrossed that he found persuasive words to bring others round to his views. But, naturally enough, he had not at first the prestige which he possessed when he became Captain Guynemer, had high rank in the Legion of Honor, and enjoyed world-wide fame. In his ’prentice days when, in workshops or in the presence of well-known builders, he would make confident statements, inveigh against errors, or demand modifications, people thought him flippant and saucy. Once somebody called him a raw lad. The answer came with crushing rapidity: “When you blunder, raw lads like myself pay for your mistakes.”