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Authors: E.V Thompson

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The Lost Years (9 page)

BOOK: The Lost Years
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Rupert might easily have flown across the neck of the small peninsula. Instead, he chose to turn south, following the coast, seeking out a potential airfield.

The BE2c had passed the tip of the Lizard and was over the sea, performing a slow, wide turn before heading westward once more, when Perys chanced to glance out of the seaward side of his cockpit. On the far horizon he could just make out smoke from a ship’s funnel. Purely as a matter of interest, he turned and attracted Rupert’s attention, pointing out to sea in an exaggerated fashion, fully expecting Rupert to do no more than acknowledge the fact that he too had seen the ship.

Much to the surprise of Perys, Rupert levelled the aircraft in order to obtain a steadier view of the distant vessel. After a few minutes he banked the aeroplane in the opposite direction and began heading out farther into the Channel.

Perys looked back at Rupert in surprise, but instead of trying to make impossible conversation, Rupert reached forward and handed him a pair of binoculars, making signs that he was to use them to examine the ship he had spotted.

As they drew nearer, Perys became increasingly impressed by the size of the vessel, which was taking shape as a large warship. He never doubted that it was a British warship, although he was unable to make out details of the ensign flying at the stern of the ship.

Suddenly, smoke belched forth from the muzzle of the ship’s guns and shortly afterwards soft puffballs of smoke began bursting in the vicinity of the BE2c, although none were particularly close.

Horrified, Perys realised they had stumbled across a German warship. He expected Rupert to turn about immediately and head back for land. Instead, after rummaging about in his cockpit, the pilot reached across the distance between them and, tapping Perys’s head to gain his attention, handed him a pencil and writing pad. Making signs that Perys was to draw the German ship, Rupert then banked and flew closer, in order that Perys might be able to sketch it in more detail.

Three times Rupert flew the BE2c back and forth the length of the warship, in order that Perys should miss no detail of the vessel and its armament.

By this time the shell bursts had moved closer to their aeroplane as the aim of the German gunners improved. When one burst so close that Perys felt quite certain shrapnel from it must have hit them, Rupert signalled it was time to go. He turned the BE2c in a breathtaking manoeuvre that would have jettisoned his passenger had he not been strapped in, and headed back towards the coast of Cornwall, out of range of the guns that had wasted so many shells trying to blast them from the sky.

Chapter 13

Soon the BE2c was once more flying over the land mass of the Lizard peninsula. They were much lower now and the German warship had long since disappeared out of sight beyond the horizon.

Rupert was evidently seeking a suitable landing ground. As Perys hurriedly put the finishing touches to his sketch of the warship, calling on his memory, the aeroplane banked and began a steep descent.

Looking over the edge of the cockpit, Perys could see what appeared to be a mansion house set in spacious grounds. Leading to the house from the road was a long, straight driveway flanked by trees which were set well back.

As the aeroplane flew lower, the space between the trees did not seem as great as Perys had first believed and he thought that Rupert would make a preliminary pass over them to see if it was safe to land, but Rupert was wasting no time. Throttling back the engine, he lined the aeroplane up with the driveway and went straight in.

It was a perfect landing, but Perys thought Rupert might have underestimated the length of the drive. When the plane came to a halt and the engine was cut, they were within hailing distance of the front entrance of the impressive house.

It seemed the owner of the house thought they were far too close. He had been in a nearby orangery when the sound of the aircraft’s engine disturbed his contemplation of the fruits of his tropical plants. He began hobbling towards the plane as the two fliers climbed to the ground, his stick waving menacingly in their direction every few steps.

‘Oh Lord!’ groaned Rupert. ‘It’s Admiral Sir Roger Trispen. I have no time to give him explanations. Deal with him for me, Perys. I need to go inside and make an urgent telephone call to the navy at Plymouth.’

Without waiting to discover whether Perys was in agreement with his request, Rupert hurried to the door of the house where a butler stood, clearly perplexed by the mode of transport used by these unexpected visitors.

A few words from Rupert were sufficient to convince the butler he had come to the house on a matter of the greatest importance. It was left to Perys to deal with the irate owner of the house.

Breathlessly reaching the aeroplane, the retired admiral waved his stick angrily at Perys. ‘What the devil do you mean by bringing this infernal machine down in my garden, eh? You’ve frightened the lives out of the sheep on the home farm, had the chickens hanging themselves on the wire netting and my dogs have taken off so fast they’re probably halfway to Truro by now!’

‘I’m sorry, sir,’ Perys apologised warily watching the raised walking stick with considerable apprehension. ‘It is an emergency.’

‘Emergency . . . ? Emergency? If there’s an emergency it’s the one you’ve created! I’ll need to send a groom out to look for my dogs. That’s an emergency. Who are you, anyway? And what are you doing wasting your time down here with a flying machine when there’s a war going on in France, eh?’

‘I’m Perys Tremayne, sir. The aeroplane is being piloted by my cousin, Rupert - Rupert Pilkington. He’s inside making a telephone call.’

‘Using my telephone? We’ll soon see about that . . .’

As the admiral turned to make his way to the house, Perys hurriedly explained, ‘He’s telephoning the navy at Plymouth, sir. To tell them of the German warship we sighted off the Lizard.’

Perys’s words stopped the old man in his tracks. Turning back to Perys he snapped, ‘You’ve seen a German ship? A warship? What sort of vessel was it?’

‘I don’t know, sir - but Rupert had me sketch it from the air. I have the sketch in the aeroplane . . .’

Relieved that the admiral’s anger seemed to have left him for a moment, Perys hurried to the aeroplane and took the drawing from the cockpit. When he handed the sketch to the irate man, it was studied in silence for some minutes. Then, no longer angry, Sir Roger demanded, ‘You’ve seen this ship off the Lizard? In which direction was she heading?’

‘East, sir, and there’s no doubt about it being German. It was firing at us as we flew close enough to make the drawing.’

‘You’re damned lucky they didn’t bring you down. You’ve just seen the Dortmund. It’s a fast, heavy cruiser, one of Germany’s most powerful warships. I don’t know who your cousin is speaking to, but I’ll get on to the flag officer in Plymouth right away. Immediate action needs to be taken and they’ll take a sight more notice of an admiral than some RFC officer.’

Once inside the house, Admiral Sir Roger Trispen quickly displayed the qualities that had earned him elevation to senior naval rank. The duty officer to whom Rupert had been talking had been inclined to cast doubt on the veracity of the Royal Flying Corps officer’s report. However, when Sir Roger took over the telephone the naval officer swiftly put him through to the flag officer, a fellow admiral.

Ten minutes later. Sir Roger replaced the telephone earpiece on the instrument and turned to his visitors with an air of great satisfaction. ‘Well, gentlemen, it seems that even an ageing retired admiral is still capable of serving his country, although if the Dortmund is intercepted as it must be a great many sailors’ lives will be saved and the country will have you to thank.’ The British navy is blockading the North Sea to prevent German warships leaving their dockyards. It won’t be expecting an attack from such a powerful ship coming from seaward. No doubt the Dortmund's captain was hoping to slip through the Dover Straits during the night and catch us napping. Thanks to you two, the tables will have been well and truly turned. Can I offer you both a drink to celebrate your success?’

Rupert declined the invitation on behalf of both of them, explaining that he needed to return to Heligan and make arrangements for his aircraft to be guarded overnight by a couple of the Heligan workers. He had given up all thoughts of returning to the Central Flying School at Upavon that evening. It would be foolish to risk losing his way in the darkness. Besides, the School also instructed pilots in the skills required for night flying. The unexpected arrival of another aeroplane could pose a serious danger to a novice pilot.

* * *

The return of the BE2c to Heligan created even more excitement than its earlier arrival. Word had spread via the Heligan servants that Rupert and Perys would be returning, and a number of the occupants of surrounding farms and houses had gathered to witness their arrival.

Among their number, Perys caught sight of Annie. He waved to her before climbing stiffly from the aeroplane, proud that she had been present to see him return from the flight.

Annie gave a brief, self-conscious acknowledgement of his greeting, pleased to have been singled out by Perys.

‘That’s a very pretty young woman,’ commented Rupert, who had witnessed the exchange.

‘Her father has a farm just over there . . .’ Perys waved a hand in the vague direction of Tregassick. ‘Her brother is a coachman at Heligan.’

Maude and her two daughters arrived on the scene at that moment and Perys was relieved when Rupert did not pursue the subject of his relationship with Annie in front of them. However, he was embarrassed that Annie witnessed the over-effusive and proprietary welcome given to him by the younger of the two sisters.

He looked for her, to gauge her reaction, but failed to see her. She appeared to have left.

A number of the Heligan house workers were among the spectators and before Perys and Rupert left the field accompanied by Maude, Morwenna and Arabella, Rupert arranged for four of the men to take turns guarding the aeroplane overnight, with orders to allow no one anywhere near it.

Talk over dinner that evening was dominated by the events of the day. Rupert was generous with praise for what he referred to as ‘Perys’s cool courage’ when the BE2c had been subjected to the considerable firepower of the German cruiser. He made it clear it was the sketch made by Perys that had enabled Admiral Sir Roger Trispen to identify the warship immediately and so pass valuable information on to the authorities.

‘Weren’t you frightened at all?’ Arabella asked Perys, gazing at him wide-eyed.

‘To be perfectly honest I was far too busy making certain my sketch of the ship was accurate,’ Perys said. ‘Besides, Rupert kept changing the aeroplane’s height and distance from the ship. The Germans just couldn’t get the range right.’

Arabella’s expression of hero worship for her young relative concerned Maude, but there was more praise to come from Rupert.

‘You showed more courage than a great many observers I have known, Perys. I shall be including that fact in my report of the incident. From what I have seen of you I am convinced you will make a first-class pilot. When the time comes for you to apply to join the Royal Flying Corps I will be happy to provide you with a reference saying exactly that.’

Chapter 14

After dinner Perys decided to check that the aeroplane was safe and being properly guarded. Arabella created such a fuss about accompanying him that Maude agreed - on condition that a reluctant Morwenna went with them.

Seated on the lawn outside the great house, overlooking the well-kept and colourful gardens, Rupert was enjoying a drink with Maude. From somewhere far away a cow was complaining about something, otherwise all was warm and peaceful.

After taking a sip from his glass, Rupert placed it on the table in front of him and said, ‘This seems a world away from the tragic mayhem in France. I feel quite guilty that I should be enjoying myself in such a fashion while so many good men are out there fighting for their lives.’

‘You haven’t exactly been divorced from the war,’ Maude pointed out. ‘In fact, I would say that what you have achieved today has made a very valuable contribution.’

‘Perys is the one who should be given the credit for that,’ Rupert pointed out. ‘It was he who first saw the smoke from the Dortmund and who produced an excellent sketch while we were under fire. He behaved exceptionally well. If he was not so keen to become a pilot I would persuade him to join the Royal Flying Corps as an observer - and have him posted to my squadron. Many pilots owe their lives to a good observer.’

Maude sighed. ‘It seems tragic that young men like Perys should be thrown into war so soon after leaving school. Life has so much more to offer them.’

‘I agree with you,’ Rupert said, seriously, ‘but the war will claim the lives of a great many young men like Perys before it is won. However, if enough of them possess a similar courage, the war will be brought to a speedy conclusion. He has a cool head in an emergency.’

‘He will not be found lacking in courage, either.’ Maude proceeded to tell Rupert of the part played by Perys in the rescue of the Russian seamen off Mevagissey.

‘I am more convinced than ever that he will do well in the Royal Flying Corps,’ Rupert commented. ‘There are some people who go through life without anything happening to disturb their routine. Others seem to trip over adventure wherever they are and whatever they do. Perys is one of the latter. It is hardly surprising the two girls are so fond of him.’

Aware that there was more to Rupert’s last remark than met the eye, Maude admitted, ‘Arabella has a young girl’s crush on him, but it will pass. As for Morwenna . . . she likes Perys, certainly - as we all like him - but there is no more to it than that. To be truthful, we all feel terribly sorry for him. Life has been quite unfair to Perys, and his grandfather’s behaviour has been nothing short of scandalous. There would appear to have been no affection at all in the life of poor Perys. I find it incredibly sad.’

It was Rupert’s turn to remain silent for some minutes before saying, ‘Perhaps it is time someone showed Perys the regard in which we all hold him.’

BOOK: The Lost Years
8.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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