Read CHAPTER II - THE “BEDOUIN” SQUADRON of Night Bombing with the Bedouins , free online book, by Robert Henry Reece, on

The “Bedouin” Squadron, so called because as a unit it was constantly moved from place to place, and because its members as individuals were wanderers at heart, was formed in September, 1917, equipped with the large Handley-Page bombing planes, and sent to the Nancy front to carry out pioneer work in long-distance bombing. The “Bedouins,” as the officers of this squadron were called, first saw the light of day in England, Scotland, Ireland, America, India, Canada, South Africa, and Australia. Before becoming aviators many of them had fought in the infantry on the western front, in Gallipoli, and in Egypt; some as officers, some as privates, but for no general reason, unless the law of nature which prevents squirrels from remaining on the ground also applies to men, they one by one in divers ways drifted into the Flying Corps, and flew different types of machines on different fronts until brought together and formed, “willy-nilly,” into the Bedouin Squadron.


There was “Jimmie,” whose insides had been shot away in Gallipoli. He was the envy of the officers’ mess, because his newly acquired digestive apparatus, composed principally of silver tubes, could assimilate more wine without producing ill results than any other five members of the mess. Jimmie was not a flying officer; by all the laws of nature he should have been a corpse, but he had a heart which disregarded an intestine designed by a surgeon who must have been a plumber in some previous incarnation, and this great heart carried him through four years of war, and made of him an energizing force to all who came in contact with him. It was not until after the cessation of hostilities that the soul of this hero was liberated from the poor maimed body with its mechanical digestive system.

Jimmie was the First Lieutenant of the Station; it was his job to see to the discipline of the two hundred and fifty mechanics, riggers, carpenters, armorers, drivers, and officers’ stewards. He did this in such a way as to make all the men love him except the few, very few, who were surly slackers, and these feared him worse than death itself. Jimmie was always just, but he demanded results. To those who shirked he was a just judge and an unsympathetic jury; so, under Jimmie, slackers soon became demons for work, and later on learned like the others to love him. To those who produced results, he was a father.

I remember that shortly after the squadron took up its residence on the Nancy front, the Huns came over and bombed us severely; many of the mechanics were fresh from the factories in England and were quite unaccustomed to seeing the damage that one hundred pounds of high explosive can do to the delicate anatomy of the human being; panic seized them; but a greater fear possessed them when Jimmie’s orders burst upon them like the rat-tat-tat of a machine gun; they marched as if on parade into the trenches, recently dug behind the hangars; then Jimmie, smoking an occasional cigarette, strolled up and down in front during the three hours’ bombardment.

So the men soon learned, under Jimmie, the value of discipline; it meant their safety when under fire, and it meant freedom from military punishments. They were quick to grasp the fact that any negligence on their part might mean death to the aviator who flew in the neglected aeroplane. Flagrant neglect they soon learned might cause other deaths than those suffered by the unfortunate aviators.


There was Sammie, a prototype of the caricatured Englishman in our comic papers. Every American theatre-goer has seen Sammie exaggerated on the music-hall stage.

Sammie was a small boy with an eyebrow on his upper lip and an apparently permanent window over his right eye. Before joining the Flying Corps he had served seventeen months in the trenches as a private; finally, driven mad with filth, rats, and other vermin, he captured an enemy machine-gun emplacement single-handed, and was given a commission. Shortly afterwards he joined the Flying Corps, probably because he could not keep his new uniform clean while in the trenches.

Sammie was always immaculate, and as a uniform gives one very little opportunity to express one’s individuality in dress, Sammie carried his handkerchief up his sleeve. Even Generals envied Sammie’s field boots and every one who met him wanted to know the name of his tailor.

In peace-time Sammie would have looked like a toy Pom with a ribbon around its neck; but a more imperturbable man in the face of danger never lived.

“My word” was the expression used by Sammie to denote every degree of human emotion. If it was Sammie’s lot to draw the occasional egg served in the Bedouin mess, his only remark when it hopped out of reach would be, “My word.”

I remember one night when both of our machines were out of action, Sammie and I, who slept in the same hut, went to bed at the early hour of twelve o’clock; at about one in the morning the Huns dropped their first bomb very close to us; a picture of Sammie’s mother was on a stand beside the head of his cot; a fragment of the bomb came through the wall of the hut and shattered this picture; I landed, as far as I know involuntarily, in the middle of the floor with a lighted torch in my hand; Sammie saw the shattered remains of his mother’s picture; “My word, mother will be pleased,” he said, turned over and was sound asleep instantly. I know Sammie slept because he never remarked on my taking a short cut to the trenches through the window.

Another time when a Hun bomb dropped in the officers’ trench and failed to explode, Sammie, who was but two feet away, tried to lift it, failed, and then lay full length upon it, believing it to be of the “delay action” variety; when our Major, a bomb expert, appeared on the scene a few moments later and laughingly declared the bomb a “dud,” Sammie’s embarrassment expressed itself in “My word.” If the detonating apparatus of this bomb had been all that the Huns intended it to be, Sammie would have returned to minute specks of dust and his name would have been added to the long list of dead heroes; but since the bomb was a “dud,” Sammie was made the butt of his friends’ wit.

Sammie was always philosophical. He was once ordered to take a new machine on a very long raid. We had all examined this new aeroplane and declared it a “dud”; so we cheered Sammie up as well as we could by drinking his health and inquiring into his taste in flowers. Undismayed, Sammie took the machine off the ground, with the wheel held into his stomach; the rigging of the machine was such that it would fly on an even plane longitudinally if the wheel was kept back as far as possible. By all the laws of aeronautics this aeroplane should have crashed before leaving the ground, but it did not. Sammie climbed it to five hundred feet in an hour and a half. As Sammie now had seven and one half hours petrol left and was still four hours away from his objective, it would have been quite justifiable for him to return without going any farther; in fact, it was the only reasonable thing for him to do; but Sammie always trusted to luck rather than reason, and his luck did not fail him. One engine “conked” and he was forced to turn back. He fired his forced landing signal when approaching the aerodrome, but the aerodrome was being bombed by the Huns in a very thorough manner and Sammie had to land in complete darkness, the inevitable result being a crash. Sammie extricated himself from the wreckage, found that both of his companions were dead, rescued one of the machine guns from its damaged mounting, together with several drums of ammunition and practised his marksmanship on the enemy planes until an enemy bomb ruined his clothes and left him, after a few months in the hospital, minus an arm.


There was “Jock,” a “wee bonnie laddie,” from the south of Scotland. He stood five feet three inches tall when wearing field boots with exceptionally high heels, but that did not prevent him from braining a Hun with the Hun’s own wrench some sixty miles back of the enemy’s front lines, and this is how it happened.

One morning, about three o’clock, information arrived, together with a complete and undamaged Hun aeroplane and two friendly Hun aviators, that at a certain German switch station a troop train and an ammunition train were due to pass at a certain hour. Jock and his pal left the congenial beer barrel, turned the friendly Hun aviators over to the guard, made themselves acquainted with the Hun aeroplane, refilled it with petrol and oil, and departed on a merry adventure. Forgetting that the Hun machine would be subject to attack by our own aviators, Jock and his companion were in a great dilemma when so attacked. Of course, they could not protect themselves by a counter-fire, but when a man is born in Scotland, and is a direct descendant of oatmeal-eating bandits, he naturally has a keener brain than even the Jews can boast of; consequently, by spinning nose dives and other signs of lack of control the wily Scot gleefully gained the enemy’s side of the lines. Here he was unmolested, although Hun aviators must have been astonished to see one of their own machines engaged in the British sport of “hedge-hopping”; i.e., flying close to the ground and “zooming” up over trees, houses, etc.

In due time Jock and his companion landed in a small field a few hundred yards away from the all-important switch station. Here they descended and under pretence of examining their engine, although the first one of the ever-curious crowd was still several fields away, they looked up the word “wrench” in an English-German pocket dictionary; they then marched off to the switch station. Fortunately there was but one occupant, for neither Jock nor his companion could talk German, and the idiocy of not carrying a more serviceable weapon than a pocket dictionary never occurred to the mad Scot until his companion began to make weird gurgling sounds, evidently intended for the language of the Hun, addressed to the astonished station-master.

Then down through generations of oatmeal-eating bandits came a glimmer of sense to Jock. He grabbed the first thing within reach, a wrench, and brained the Hun station-master with a blow; then the mad but somewhat sobered adventurers found and pulled the switch lever so as to bring the approaching trains into collision, and departed. When Jock saw the crowd which had collected about his aeroplane, he took a solemn oath never to touch beer but to stick to whiskey; but the crowd, which included a few Hun soldiers, respectfully made way for the “camouflaged” British aviators and a few moments later, wet with cold perspiration, they were in the air. Thoroughly sobered, they made for home with their engine “full out.” Six weeks later “intelligence” reported that a German troop train and ammunition train had collided.


There was “Mac,” a North of England man. Before the war he was a typical English sportsman; he lived for hunting, and polo was his hobby. Like the rest of his class he pushed his way into the fighting line as soon as possible, as a private in the First Hundred Thousand. But eventually his genius expressed itself and leaving the known walks of man he became a master of the newly conquered element. Mac’s mind was not limited by science, his soul was not dwarfed by religious prejudice, he held no political position, and he had no personal military ambition. He fought to defeat a threat to the civilization he believed in, to preserve a form of government that his ancestors had bled and died for, and to secure a future for his tiny son free from the hell of war. Mac, like every other man who had the courage to fight, and if necessary, die for his beliefs, hoped that the fighting man would be allowed to fight on until these ends had been achieved so that those who had died should not have made the great sacrifice in vain. He hoped, like all other fighting men, that politicians would not be given the power to render valueless to posterity the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of lives; but Mac was merely a man, of fearless integrity, honesty of purpose, with humanitarian ideals, and a believer in Democracy; he could not realize that a large majority, because of selfishness, ignorance, and a lack of the spirit of self-sacrifice, do not deserve the right to vote. But Mac was a sportsman and a gentleman, the descendant of generations of men who faced death willingly in a cause they knew was honorable and who died happily in the thought that their death made life easier for future generations. So Mac did not worry about the selfish ambitions of men; he did all he could to win the World War.

I first met Mac a few months after he flew a Handley-Page machine from London to Constantinople and back to Salonica, a distance of over two thousand miles. Mac was a Captain then, he is a Captain now, but no living man has done more damage to the Hun than Mac has done. A far greater leader of men than his great uncle, who was a General in our Civil War, Mac gave a soul to the Bedouin Squadron. To Mac’s leadership is due the first bombings of Mannheim, Coblenz, Thionville, Frankfort, and Cologne.

It was Mac who flew a German aeroplane to Sedan, followed a “spotted” train to a near-by station, swooped down as the German High Command left the train and opened on them with his machine gun. It was Mac who landed over ten times near Karlsruhe at night and returned with invaluable information. But it is not because of the innumerable suicidal adventures of which Mac is the hero that every Bedouin, no matter in what part of the world he may be, always drinks a silent toast to Mac whenever possible; it is because every Bedouin realizes that a great man carried out a small man’s job in a great way.


“Gus” was the president of the Bedouin mess, and probably because of an early education at Heidelberg, he believed in starving the British aviator. At all events, while Gus was mess president we all starved with agonizing slowness, for Gus had but two ideas of what constituted a menu. Our meals consisted solely of “bully beef” and Brussels sprouts; this meal was varied occasionally by leaving out the sprouts. To every indignant complaint from long-suffering members of the officers’ mess, Gus would answer with the incontrovertible statement that “humming-birds’ tongues cannot be purchased with tuppence”; this incontrovertible statement always reduced the complaining member to frothings at the mouth and other signs of inexpressible rage. Nevertheless, under the starvation system of Gus’s stewardship a large credit balance was established at the Societe Generale, which enabled the succeeding mess president to replace the expert electrician, who by army wisdom had been converted into a poisonous cook, with a Frenchman, whose cooking was not cooking at all, but an art which filled the Bedouins with admiration and destroyed their waist lines. Six-course banquets, ending with a rare old yellow Chartreuse, became the order of the day, and whenever some seductive delicacy defied analysis we would ask Gus if it contained the tongue of the humming-bird.

But Gus, although a failure in always satisfying the epicurean tastes of the Bedouins, won fame by being the first to bomb Cologne.


“Mid” was a Yank who joined the squadron a few months before its “bust-up.” Mid had been a private in the first American contingent to arrive in France; but because he was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and knew that automobiles were manufactured in Detroit, Michigan, he was given a commission. The Bedouins first met Mid in January, 1918. He had run his car Mid was always driving a car into a snowdrift, and wandered a couple of miles through a blizzard in search of help. Fortunately for us, he tumbled into our mess in the midst of a “storm celebration”; i.e., a celebration in honor of a storm which forces birds and all other inhabitants of the air to seek shelter. Mid was pounced upon, placed in front of the fire, and given hot rum. A crew of men were sent off to dig his “benzine buggy” out of the snow and convey it to Mid’s station, it having been decided that Mid should spend the night with the Bedouins.

Mid soon won the hearts of the Bedouins by showing a proper appreciation for hot rum, and when he prefaced his first remark to the C.O. with “Say, kid,” the Bedouins realized that Mid gave every promise of making this “storm celebration” unique in Bedouin history, and as far as Mid was concerned it certainly was.

Mid entered into the spirit of the occasion with Western thoroughness and learned a lesson in a few hours which it has taken some men years to learn that hot rum when taken on a cold and empty stomach must be treated with respect; in fact, a certain amount of coyness is not out of place. Mid was soon being supported on a chair while he delivered an epic on the “soul of a jellyfish”; he was then tossed in the “sacred blanket” and put through other Bedouin initiations; after which he was tucked comfortably in Jock’s bed, while Jock, bound hand and foot and rolled in blankets, made horrid Highland remarks from the draughty floor of the hut.

Dear old Mid, however, bore no ill-will to the Bedouins for what he might have considered unceremonious treatment of an American officer who was an honored guest. The next morning with a humble but dignified mien, Mid apologized for everything that he had done. As a matter of fact, the only disreputable thing Mid had done while under the influence of an excess of hot rum on an empty stomach was to make friends with a few men whom the Huns had sworn to kill on sight.

Nothing daunted, Mid soon “wangled” permission to become attached to the Bedouin Squadron, and a more dare-devil spirit and lovable comrade than Mid did not exist among the Bedouins. He was always as keen for work as he was “full out” for a party, and he was always the life of a celebration. I remember one night when the C.O. read out at dinner a telegram which concisely stated that His Majesty the King had awarded to one of the Bedouins a very great honor, Mid broke loose. “Say, kids,” he said, “I want to say right here that it’s a great honor for my mother’s younger son to be a Bedouin, and since it’s a ‘dud’ night I want to ask your permission, Sir” (turning to the C.O.), “to present every Bedouin with a quart of the best.” Permission being given by the C.O. on the condition that the C.O. himself would be allowed to share in the “largess,” every Bedouin had placed before him a quart of Heidsieck Monopole. Songs and speeches followed, and Mid, since he could not “take the air,” took the floor.

“Fellow citizens,” he said, balancing himself on an upturned beer barrel, “it gives me great pleasure to be able to stand before you this evening”; support given and applause. “It has always seemed to me that the greatest country in the world might be considered a bit slow in entering the war.” [Hear! Hear!] “But, gentlemen, now that we are in, I want to say that we will be the first out.” [Loud applause!] “I want you to understand that because the United States has always been considered the historic enemy of Great Britain, Germany was enabled to persuade an ignorant electorate that the United States and Germany were friends. But now we are in, we are in to the finish. When I say finish, gentlemen, I mean a finish to the fighting, but I beg of you to be careful of the non-fighting part of my country’s population, and their representatives. More I cannot say, except this, if ever your King or your sea-power is threatened, you may depend upon every true American; we owe you a debt, and depend upon it every descendant of the founders of our country will die before that obligation is allowed to be repudiated.” With loud cheers, Mid was lifted from his perch.


The Bedouin who held the unenvied record for crashes was known throughout the service as “Killem.” Almost every time he went on a raid he crashed his machine, fortunately for him on this side of the lines. One night, returning from a raid on the Boche magneto works at Stuttgart, he lost his way and was forced to land, because of engine trouble, in France, near the Swiss border. The topography of the country here being mountainous, he was fortunate in merely “writing off” his aeroplane. He might easily have killed himself and his two companions, but he came out of the crash quite unhurt except for a severe chill contracted by a forced sojourn in the icy waters of a shallow pond. Pinned beneath the wreckage of his machine with an unpleasant ripple of water in close proximity to his chin, Killem had an excellent opportunity to think over his past sins while his companions in misery, who had been thrown clear for no other reason apparently except that the devil takes care of his own, struggled manfully, one with a broken arm and the other with a wrenched knee, to release him from the pressure of wreckage which held him helpless.

A few nights after this unpleasant experience the mad fellow “took off” down wind. This idiotic method of leaving the ground resulted in his being barely able to rise above the roofs of the near-by village and brought him into direct contact with the church spire. The spire being of solid construction withstood the impact; the aeroplane did not. So Killem and his companions, together with the wrecked Handley-Page and one thousand five hundred and sixty-eight pounds of undetonated bombs descended onto the street below undetonated. It was exceedingly fortunate for the inhabitants of the French village that the bombs remained undetonated. Killem crawled out of the wreck, looked ruefully at the church spire, and muttered, “I’ve always felt that I should have gone oftener to church in my youth. Now look at the damned result of my negligence.”

It was Killem who tested out a new aeroplane one day while a south wind equal to the air speed of his machine was blowing. While flying north he travelled over the ground twice as fast as he travelled through the air, but when he turned around over the city of Toul he remained stationary. He was travelling through the air as fast as before, but now he was headed south, and as the wind passed over the ground toward the north as rapidly as Killem travelled through the air toward the south, the inhabitants of Toul were amazed to see a heavier-than-air machine remaining stationary above their heads. This situation greatly alarmed a dear old lady of Toul, who eventually arrived at our aerodrome in a donkey cart with the astounding information that one of our planes “had run out” of petrol and was stalled directly above her house.