Those Magnificent Men (3) – The Journey Back to the Somme
Both aircraft start first time with the BE2 on a prop swing and the Albatros on the Magneto exciter and we are off. We have just 5 minutes to get to Caterpillar Valley Cemetery for the NZ Commemoration of the Battle of the Somme. We have been briefed to be at the holding point to the west of the cemetery to await a flare to indicate two mins to run in. On arrival we are already late against the estimated time over the cemetery. My respect for the BE2 observers of yore is growing by the second as even at 55 mph trying to read a map when you are head and shoulders out of the open cockpit squinting through oil-smeared goggles is challenging – let alone having to defend yourselves with a pintle mounted Lewis gun without safety stops.
As our fuel margins are tight for the next leg to Abbeville, and we are now 5 mins past our briefed time over target, I point John at the Cemetery (our only means of communication) and off we go. We can see Keith in the distance hurtling to join us. I am now focussed on the wind direction, a brisk southerly, as shown by the flags behind the Memorial Stone. We do one orbit just to see how the land lies and can see the audience waving at us. I point to John that we need to extend upwind on the second orbit to drop the poppies and start adjusting the laundry bag for the drop. I imagined that the poppies would take some time to leave but in the event it was more like a huge suction pump when I opened the draw string and they all went at once…. .