Since I have populated my novels, The Merry Millionaire, and its sequel, Pomp and Circumstance with real life characters, whom my protagonists, Ronald Fry and Mervyn Watson, might easily have met along the way, let me introduce to you, Australian Pilot Officer, Adrian Cole, affectionately nicknamed, ‘King.’ I am proud to have included this brave man into my story, because he continued on to have an illustrious career in the Royal Australian Air Force, too long, I’m afraid to recount here, but well documented in the Wikipedia article.
Ronald Fry’s war to end all wars was slow to start, his regiment, the 2nd of the 4th Somerset Light Infantry, posted to India at the commencement, then to the Andaman Islands, and subsequently back to India, before, in 1916, finally being posted to Egypt.
During this time, nonetheless, Ron, as he would insist we call him, found a new skill, and that was stripping and re-assembling aero engines. As a result, he requested to be transferred to the newly formed Royal Flying Corp, which had bases in Abbassia, north of Cairo, as well as various airfields dotted along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast.
Ron quickly rises to become a supervising officer at X factory, repairing aeroplanes, thus keeping the RFC supplied with flying machines, which were becoming increasingly vital in the fight for Palestine and General Allenby’s push to Jerusalem.
Here then was an opportunity to introduce a character into my story, as well as give Ron a bit of adventure to spice up his otherwise rather unexciting war.
‘King’ Cole, at this time was based at one of the airfields, which Ron would have serviced; therefore, it’s not altogether fanciful that he might easily have brushed shoulders with this air ace and king of the skies over Palestine.
Read on and share a snippet of Ron’s memoir, recounting the moment ‘King’ Cole took him for a spin.
My headquarters were in Abbassia, at the Aircraft Park in the Engine Repair Depot. I was in charge of supplies and a group of skilled aero engine mechanics. Since I was closely involved, I became friends with several pilots, one of whom was Australian, Lieutenant Adrian Cole. On one occasion, while I was supervising the establishment of a new base at Ismalia, King Cole, as he was affectionately nicknamed around the base, asked whether I would care to join him on a dawn reconnaissance flight.
“You’ll love it!” he shouted, as we hurried to the airplane while pulling on our flying helmets and goggles, “Have you been up before?”
“No!” I yelled, “I’ve no idea what to expect.”
“There’s a Lewis gun mounted in the observer seat. Use it if we meet any trouble.”
Squinting in the early morning sun, I saw King clamber on to the wing of the RE8 machine, and hoist himself into the cockpit, and doing the same, I climbed into the seat behind him. King made this manoeuvre look easy, however, being considerably taller, my legs tangled with everything, until I finally settled into position.
“Ready!” King called to the three mechanics on the ground.
One man pulled down the propeller and the engine burst into life.
“Take em away!”
The other two men dragged back the wooden wedges under the wheels, and the plane began to move. With our speed increasing, we turned towards the rising sun and into the wind, while the ground passed faster and faster beneath us. All of a sudden, the vibration of the wheels stopped and I realised we were in the air. I felt exhilarated, letting out a great whoop of joy as my stomach hit the seat. We climbed steeply, until I could see the rugged desert hundreds of feet below and distant mountains, miles ahead. Once the plane reached altitude, King pushed the stick forward and we levelled out.
“Are you okay?” he yelled.
“Fine!” I shouted, “It’s incredible!”
“Are you strapped in?”
Without warning, King turned the plane into a steep dive, the engine screaming in reply as we dipped so low I saw our reflection in a wadi beneath us. Then up we climbed again and the sky was in front and above us, all the while my stomach doing cartwheels.
“My word!” I shouted, the wind attempting to whip my breath away, “Marvellous! When the war’s over, I’m taking pilot training. I’ve missed my vocation.”
Whether King heard me or not I had no idea, because at that moment he looped the loop and once more headed towards the ground. Nonetheless, at the exact last minute, King pulled back the joystick and the plane responded by soaring upward, until we reached an altitude where I found it hard to breath.
“Just thought I’d give you a whirl, mate!” hollered King, “To give you a taster.”
We flew on, heading northeast, over rocky ranges, deep wadis, and vast deserts, until King pointed to the horizon ahead.
“That’s Tel el Sheria. It’s a watering place held by the Turks. They want me to take photographs.”
He turned and pointed to a box mounted on the side of the plane.
“It’s a camera. The other bloke takes the pictures, so you may as well. Wait until we’re close. They want to see the railway. When we’re over it, take a few shots. The shutter lever’s on the right side. I’ll make three or four passes.”
Keeping the sun to our right, we continued flying north. However, before long, several low hills appeared and finer details came into focus. A peaceful scene. One small railway station; a brick bridge across a wide valley; numerous bell tents pitched in the sand; many horses, tethered together, and smoke from campfires drifting into the brightening sky. However, looking east and west, it was disturbing to see the lines of trenches and heavy artillery disappearing in either direction.
“The Turkish Lines!” King yelled, over the noise of the engine.
“Can you see the railway?” He pointed beyond the guns to the terrain ahead where a train track was under construction and vanishing behind a ridge. “It’ll link with the Gaza-Beersheba railway. If it’s finished it’ll connect with Shellal and be a vital supply line for the Turks. It’s important we bomb it soon.”
Our plane was almost above the half-finished track, so I put my eye to the viewfinder and my finger on the shutter lever. I was just about to take a picture when the plane shuddered violently as a shell exploded beneath us. King veered away from the shrapnel falling all around, and made a sudden dive.
“Did you take one?” he shouted.
“I’ll go around again. You’ll need to be quick. The bastards have seen us.”
As we made a second pass, another shell burst, this time to our left. Nonetheless, I was able to click the shutter three times before King pulled us up and out of range.
“Let’s have a go at them!” he yelled.
My body rattled as excitement overtook me. It had been three long years and I was about to fire a gun at last, and not just at a practice target, but also at the enemy.
“We’ll dive!” King, yelled, “Are you ready mate?”
“Yes!” I shouted. It was doubtful whether King heard me over the scream of the engine, so I grabbed the Lewis Gun, rammed the butt plate into my armpit, and found the trigger. With my eye on both the front and back sites, I saw the Turkish guns coming rapidly nearer, the gun crews scattering in all directions. We made a great sweep over their heads, I pulled the trigger, and the gun burst into life, firing round after round across the enemy lines. King turned the plane in a great victory roll as we headed towards the cluster of tents and the tethered horses. The Turks were in a fright, scurrying around, endeavouring to organise themselves into an offensive. Nonetheless, unperturbed, King pushed the joystick to the left; pointing us directly at the horses, and then dived so low I swore I could smell them. The terrified animals hurtled about, broke their tethers, and escaped the holding pens.
“Well done, mate!” King shouted, as we soared into a climb, “Did you get any of them?”
“Don’t know. Everything happened so fast.”
“We better get back. We’ve got what we came for.
WHY NOT READ A SAMPLE OF
THE FIRST FEW CHAPTERS OF
THE MERRY MILLIONAIRE