Generally the aeroplane with the black crosses on its wings is very high—barely visible. Sometimes, when the other planes are near it, it swoops steeply to earth behind the German lines. Or it may be that, far behind our own lines, you see a plane diving to earth at an angle which makes you wonder whether it is falling or being steered. It straightens out suddenly, and lands a few fields away. By the time you are there, a cluster of khaki is already round it. An English boy steps out of it, flushed and excited, and with intense strain written in his eyes and in every jerk of his head. Out of the seat just behind him they are lifting a man with a terrible wound in his side. In the arms of the seat from which they lift him are two holes as big as a shell would make—but they were not made by a shell. A cluster of bullets from the machine-gun of a German plane at close range has passed in at one side of the seat and out at the other. The rifle which the observer was carrying dropped from his hands out into space, and the pilot saw it fall just before he dived.
The German pilots are sometimes youngsters too—not very unlike our own. Our first sight of active war in France was when the train stopped at a country siding many miles behind the lines, and two British soldiers with fixed bayonets marched a third man—a youngster with a slight fair moustache—over the level crossing in front of us. He wore a grey peaked cap and a short overcoat jacket with a warm collar and tall, tight-fitting boots—very much like those of our own officers; and he walked with a big, swift stride, looking straight ahead of him. Somewhere, far over behind the German lines, they were probably expecting him at that moment. His servant would be getting ready his room. He had left the aerodrome only an hour before, and flown over strange lines which we have never seen, but which had become as familiar as his home to him, with no idea than to be back, as he always was before, within an hour or so. And then something seems to be wrong with the plane—he has to come down in a strange country; and within an hour he is out of the war for good and all. He strides along biting his lip. His comrades will expect him for an hour or so. By dinner-time they will realise that there is another member gone from their mess.
While I am writing these words someone runs in to say that a German aeroplane has been shot down—came down in flames, they say, and tore a great hole in the roadside. There seems to be some such news every day, now it is one of ours, now one of theirs. It is a brave game.
I suppose it needs a sportsman, even if he is a German, to fight in a service like that. The pity of it that he is fighting for such an ugly cause.
THE COMING STRUGGLE: OUR TASK
[Up to this time the Australians had been in quiet trenches in the green lowlands near Armentieres. From this time the coming struggle began to loom ahead.]