Where was Rufus on that day?
He was beginning his Staff Officer training and was attached to 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade headquarters. His diary entry was difficult to read: “To Bethune in afternoon in sidecar. Lovely day, lovely old town with wonderful glass in church. Aeroplane came down behind …???… quad at 1530. GOC sent me up with Captain Powell of RFC about 1830. They got(?) it away OK. Back for Sills to lecture at Army HQ.”
Even though you can’t make out everything he wrote, he seems to have had quite a day. I’d like to have seen him in that motorcycle sidecar – that would have made him put his pipe away!
Yes, they were pretty miserable things to travel in, especially in February. But it was a lot quicker that walking, or cycling, or riding a horse, so he would find himself travelling that way quite often after that.
It was nice that he had enough time in Bethune to have a look at the church. Did the ‘wonderful glass’ – stained glass windows, presumably – did they survive the war?
No, sadly, they didn’t. Rufus had spent much of his boyhood in Canterbury Cathedral and the glass he admired was probably similar to Canterbury’s – something like this:
I imagine churches as being quite dark in the middle ages and the only light would have been coming through windows like that! It would have been wonderful!
Some French churches still have their ancient glass – Chartres cathedral for example. And their interiors are just as you describe. You’ll have to go and see it for yourself one day. The windows at Bethune were okay until the German spring offensive in 1918 – but by the time they’d been sent packing, the church in Bethune looked like this – and most of the windows were shattered. You can see one of them in the photo:
What a waste!
It was indeed, like everything else to do with that particular war. But that day, 15 February 1917, Rufus had another memorable experience waiting for him – the GOC (the general commanding 3rd Brigade) sent him up in an aeroplane. It was his first flight, of course.
Why would the general do that, do you think?
Because Rufus was training to be – among other things – an Intelligence Officer. And Intelligence Officers have to know everything about the positions of the enemy. One way to find out is by taking air photographs over enemy lines, and then learning how to interpret them. That’s probably what they were doing. it would have been getting dark – a good time to fly when you can’t be so clearly seen . Rufus would have been in the rear seat of an aircraft like this:
What kind of aircraft is that?
A BE2 reconnaissance aircraft – the ‘2’ is for two-seater, one behind the other.
So Captain Powell would have been in front?
That’s right. And to communicate they had to shout at each other into the wind – they were probably flying at about 120 kph
Well, that was quite a day. You have to admire those guys – they were nothing if not tough. Good for Rufus!