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From the Archives, 1918 Tillsonburg Liberal

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

 

Tillsonburg Liberal -- Thursday, September 12, 1918

 

Mr. and Mrs. Geo. Rodgers have received the following letter from their son, Lieut. Clifford Rodgers, giving a thrilling account of the air raid in which he was wounded.

 

France, Aug. 3, 1918

Dear Folks at Home,

To begin with, this goes from an American Hospital in Western or Southwestern France, so as you may imagine, I have a little to tell you.

My health, in spite of a broken left arm, is quite alright, and I am getting along fine. So much for that.

I had just received that parcel of good things from home – date cakes, fruit cakes, chocolate, and so on – and in the morning following, was notified early to “stand by” for a raid. It turned out that rain was threatened, and so the expedition was abandoned just in time, too, for we were actually starting our engines. Some were actually running.

Then later in the day the order came through the raid was on. If you have studied the map of the Marne salient, the scene of the recent Hun attempts, and our splendid achievements there, you will remember Fismes, was our objective.

We left ground at about 5 p.m. and crossed the lines at an altitude of about 13,000 feet at 6:40. Now Fismes is about 15 miles or more beyond where the line was. Over it we pulled the strings and two bombs fell from each machine – each of 112 pounds from each wing.

Shortly after that Lee, my observer, signalled me to dive, for hostile were about. Before I could do this I felt a sting in my left arm above the elbow, and then heard a “pupupupup” in the rear. Then seemingly on my very shoulder I heard the louder, similar sound of Lee's gun opening fire, and the burst of fire was of most extraordinary length. As a matter of fact, learned later, Lee transferred nearly a hundred rounds of perfectly satisfactory .303 ammunition from his Lewis magazine to the immediate proximity of that unfortunate Hun.

Lee solemnly swears that most of his tracers (that is, his bullets which carry a small fire-ball to show where they go) went straight home. Anyway our good friend from across the Rhine suddenly gave up his very creditable endeavours to kill us, his machine careened earthward, out of control.

His first Hun – my first Hun!

And the price I paid was a useless arm, for it had dropped from the throttle control lever, and was paining noticeably. Both legs, however, were still intact, and my right arm. So with feet on the rudder-bar, and right hand on the control lever – 'the joystick' – we continued our celestial excursion – 'mhm'.

To make speed I put the nose down and the indicator hand swung round to 130 miles per hour – and I breathed a little prayer both of thankfulness and petition and it was heard.

Now to understand the predicament I was in as a pilot, let alone being wounded, and being a bit “nuts” with pain. Under my left hand was a lever which must NOT be opened below 9,000 ft. If opened below, chances are 9 to 1 the engine fails. Above that it improves the carburetion of the gasoline. It is called the extra air control.

Knowing what it meant I tried to move the injured hand out of the way, holding the main control lever to control general equilibrium, between my knees. The pain was too great and I had to give it up.

And, too, at the same left side there is a wheel for adjusting the angle of the tail plane in the air, and of course I couldn't work that. And “Archie” had been bursting about us, too.

Well, I had no very keen desire to have the ship come to earth a wrecked mass of fabric, wood and metal, with two red blots inside it, and yet I was beginning to get a bit sick.

Again I prayed and so did John Lee, that staunchest of observers of whom I told you in a former letter. I knew he couldn't fly the bus alone, so we just carried on. And how far do you think I flew that bus – and had a broken arm too? About 50 miles or nearly.

Then John spied our aerodrome, but I saw a nearer French one, and made for it, lickety-split flew around into position for landing. Took the stick between my knees again – and did a “last hope” stunt – reached out and shut off the electric sparking current. Then it was kill or cure.

We were high, and side-slipped in best exhibition style, then glided over the surface of the 'drome at terrific speed, finally coming to rest quite respectably with never a spar or wire even bent.

The French mechanics and officers took it all to be, apparently, a wild exhibition of daredevil, foolish recklessness, and were slow to see the point. Finally they did come out and treated Lee and I right royally.

I was a bit off my head with pain, but I talked more French, and better French, than I had in a long time. A French doctor was almost motherly in his tenderness and having put my arm in a sling insisted on taking his place at one corner of the stretcher. I whistled the 'Marseillaise!' to the bearers' huge amusement.

They carried me to an ambulance and then to an American Evacuation Hospital. There my flying coat and tunic, all my upper clothes were cut off (luckily the tunic was the poorest I had, being a cadet one) but I mourned the loss of a good wool shirt.

Yes, I said goodbye to my clothes, and haven't been into them since – oof! Parading (lying in bed) in my pyja... no I should say in Red Cross pajamas.

They at once X-rayed me, found a transverse fracture of the humerus (not funny bone!) splintered and no foreign object. Thence they carted me to the operating room, and after administering ether and gas must have done a variety of things, for next morning when I awakened I found my arm all bandaged up and in a splint.

The nurse, Miss Moriarity, Dutch I presume, told me I'd played all sorts of tricks on them when under the ether and fearing lest my heart was going out of business they had given me some sort of stimulant.

Well, at once I agitated for my clothes and pocket-book in them. A couple days later I got them and the bible that was in my pocket when I was hit. I must confess I've never read that copy much, because its type is so small, I carry it only for emergency use, but anyway it's a trophy worth consigning to posterity (ahem!). It's a small pig-skin-bound, clasp bible, given me by Captain Holmes when in Horsham last spring.

On Friday night the major, Captain Doyle, and Lee came over, bringing decent clothes for future use.

On Monday they shipped me from that hospital to a base American hospital No. 13, here at Limoges, about 150 miles from the Bay of Biscay. This is a Chicago unit and naturally there are several Canadians and ex-Canadians in it. Major Harvey the Registrar, seeing me in the records as from Tillsonburg came to visit me and I found he knew Tillsonburg as well as I.

The food is so much like home, too. Things simply forgotten – never seen in England – come along daily. Pancakes and syrup, fried potatoes, canned corn, pumpkin pie and real lemonade. All these are unknown in England as we know them at home.

U.S. custom is to pay a dollar a day (officers) for board and I am more than satisfied.

Why am I not in a British Hospital? Because there were no British Hospitals on that front. We were supporting the French and Americans.

Now good-bye, deepest affection to all.

– Clifford

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