The Sydney Stock and Station Journal (NSW) Tuesday, November 3, 1914
This article is titled: The Aerial Pirate. FIGHT IN THE CLOUDS. A THRILLING STORY.
(By A. G. "Smiler" Hales in London "Daily News.")
It was twenty minutes past 5 in the evening when a sudden sound brought me to my feet wide awake and watchful. I had been snatching an hour's rest after a tiring day in the shade of a great pear tree.
"What is it?" I snapped the question at my son, who was on the warpath with me. The reply came crisp and sharp— "An aeroplane traveling like- the devil. Looks like a German, and I'll bet she's after the big mob of cattle stored yesterday in the fields for the army."
I followed the lad's eager gaze and pointing finger, and there overhead hung a great birdlike ship of the air twin to that one I had seen dropping bombs in Paris by the railway station. Suddenly she dipped her nose earthward and came sweeping down, plunging through space like a hawk "stooping" on its prey.
I felt my heart jump a lot faster than it had done for many a day in the presence of this uncanny peril, for I felt sure she was about to bomb the spot in my immediate vicinity. Bombs are not new to me. I had seen them used against forts by the Macedonians, but there they were used as hand grenades, not from the belly of a ship of the ether, and the unknown always has terrors for even the most seasoned men.
I had just time to rip out a short command, 'If she drops a bomb throw yourself face down at full length on the ground and chance your luck."
THE MAN-MADE BIRD.
"Wish to God I had a rifle," was the answer that came back to me, and the next moment the ship veered in her downward swoop and skimmed the earth as a swallow skims in full flight, It was superb airmanship, and, foe, though I knew the man at the wheel to be, I could not help admiring his splendid nerve, for at the low altitude he was now sailing at any marksman amongst the heavy foilage could have brought him down with a shot-gun.
There were two of them in the craft; the man at the steering gear was a biggish man with a beard of flaxen color. His attitude was reminiscent of a beast of prey; his shoulders were hunched up, his head thrust forward, his body bowed.
He wore large goggles and his hair was long. He wore no hat, coat, or waistcoat, his shirt sleeves were idled up above the elbows, his arms looked womanishly white.
Crouching over his steering gear, peering forward and below, he looked like some vast lynx about to pounce on its prey. The other man lounged rather than sat in the body of the ship if I can use such a term for the type of aeroplane Germany is using to scare cities and destroy women and children. They must have known their ground well, or they would never have dared to skim the treetops as they were doing.
Probably they had lived in that vicinity for years prior to the war, and knew to a nicety where danger lurked. Perhaps they were looking for friends still playing the spy on French soil and expecting a signal, for in the village not eight miles away 42 spies had been captured after the declaration of hostilities, some dressed as nuns or nurses. They had lived and dressed and passed as women, and it was a woman who gave them away.
THE HUMAN HAWK.
They saw something from their vantage ground which we could not see or hear, for as suddenly as the machine had dipped towards earth it rose again. The flaxen-boarded man may not have been a soldier, but he was a past master of this business, a veritable human hawk. We watched and listened.
From away in the immediate distance we could hear the almost rhythmic lowings of the thousands of head of cattle that had been gathered together and pastured for the use of the army of France in the defense of Paris, but to our strained senses, nothing was so clear as the click, click-wh-wh-wh of the murderous machine. Again it dipped earthward, but further away from our hiding place.
It did not come down this time in plummet-like fashion, but comet-like, slanting and whirling through space with a velocity that made us wonder. I knew his objective then; it was the cattle.
I waited breathlessly for the crack of rifles, for I knew the sentries must have seen the invader by this time, but no rifle spoke. The aerial pirate stopped in its swoops and turned so suddenly I wondered it did not break amidships.
Out of the fields to the right rose a French aeroplane; she rose like a bird on the wing, climbing up and up, but always well from under the invader.
THE DREAM FULFILLED.
I watched with fascinated eyes, for this was the fulfillment of a dream I had cherished ever since I first met Colonel Cody when aerial navigation was in its infancy. I remembered hazily a prophecy of his: "You will live to see ships fighting in the air as they fight at sea," and I would not have given that hour for a lifetime of tamer joys.
The lad clutched my arm and pointed southward. On the left of the German craft another Frenchman was soaring upward, birdlike and beautiful, and I knew then that the German was trapped, and must fight or fly for dear life, for there is no mercy in the air, no quarter asked or given, it is a duel to the death — always.
The German had seen his danger too; he had swung away from that rising birdlike thing on his right to find himself menaced on his left by this new foe, and must have known that death was floating at his elbow. What was it to be?
A shot through body or brain, or a plunge down to annihilation? Whichever it was the man at the driving gear showed neither fear nor hesitation; he took the only course open to him.
Up he climbed, his plane pointing almost vertically towards the clouds. It was his only chance — to get above his foes one at a time and drop bombs on them, or else to dive straight down on one and bring it to earth — and death— with him.
A RACE IN SPACE.
The Frenchmen knew as well as the invader. They raced him skyward always keeping from under, yet closing in on either flank like a pair of eagles hunting down their prey. . . . They drew closer and ever closer.
The man on the left reached out an arm and fired at the man at the German's driving gear. Did he hit or miss? We could not tell.
We saw the German make a sudden headlong dive, and even as he shot downwards he veered in his flight and passed under the left-hand foe and skimmed away like a wild goose going down the wind in a gale. It was a splendid piece of maneuvering, for it took him from between his foes.
The right hand Frenchman struck across his path at right angles, and to do so he had to swoop down and lose the advantage of the upper air. The German had to turn, and the changed course drove him in the direction of the fort whose existence he must have known as well as his pursuers.
To attempt to pass that fort at the altitude he was traveling at mean being riddled by lead, for well he knew the red caps would be watching the fight and flight, rifle in hand, in their hundreds. No hope lay that way, and the game was up, but the German was game.
Give the devil his due, he was game to the marrow. Only men brave to the verge of madness take on such tasks as he had taken, but his sands were running out.
But his moment was not yet. He turned and twisted, dived low, rose high, darted to right and left, charged forward, wheeled, and tried to drive his machine through that of a foe.
His skill was superlative, his nerve unbreakable. We lost sight of them all behind a clump of foliage, and then two vessels came into view, and both were the craft of France.
The German lay a broken mass of splinters on the ground, and amid the wreckage lay two dead men who, whatever their faults may have been, had known how to die like men, if they had lived but buccaneers of the trackless blue.
The man at the steering gear had been shot through the brain just as he had dipped his craft for a swift downward dive, and the warcraft of the void, freed from the controlling hand, had plunged headlong through space to meet the earth and be splintered and crumpled up like some misshaped thing we see at times upon the scrap heaps in a lumber-yard.