In 1918, Captain François Coli, CO of SPA62, crash-landed into a hangar and lost an eye in the process. Nevertheless he refused all medical assistance until he had dictated the following order: 'All men in this squadron, the CO apart, are forbidden from entering the hangars in their plane by any means other than the doors intended for that purpose.'
In 1915, André Quennehen (MF23) survived a near-miss flying with the son of General de Maud'huy as his observer. That September young Maud'huy was killed, serving with MF63. 'When will it be my turn?' wondered Quennehen. One pilot thought it was all a matter of chance: 'If he's unlucky, even the best pilot can be killed the first time he has an accident; if fortune smiles on him, a bumbler can emerge from a disaster unscathed.'
Some men conquered their fear of death by telling themselves they were dead already. Captain Albert Auger was the CO of N3. 'Thinking you might die is what allows you to live life to the full,' he reckoned. 'A willingness to die for one's country is the measure of a man.' Aspirant Pierre Gourdon (MF201), bolstered by his faith, was of a similar mind: 'Don't live your life, but a dream, an ideal. Death is an eternal dawn where the soul lives forever in glory, no longer afraid of the day. Heroes today will tomorrow be angels. All true sacrifice is welcome unto God.'
Inevitably, most casualties occurred among inexperienced aircrew: 'There were an enormous number of deaths and losses among the young,' reckoned Paul Waddington (SPA154). 'It wasn't unusual for a young fighter pilot to turn up and be dead a fortnight later through lack of experience. After a certain amount of flying time and getting yourself out of a number of tight spots, then fine! You'd every chance of staying the course.'
Bernard Lafont (V220) watched as a Caudron staggered back to the airfield at Lemmes, behind Verdun. The observer was dead, but the pilot unharmed: 'He was standing by his plane, gabbling away, badly shaken and very worked up. He told us about the dogfight: a Boche had surprised them, a few rounds and it was over. [The pilot] was covered in blood, face and clothes. Blood had poured from his observer's wound and the draught from the engine had sprayed it all over him. He had to land the plane under this horrible shower. He managed to touch it down but he was obviously very emotional; every now and then his limbs started trembling. I remained in front of the plane, abandoned on the airfield. The panels of the fuselage were red; so too the struts and the engine housing.'
Pictures: Partridge (from La Guerre Aérienne Illustrée); Coli (before his accident); Nungesser (from La Guerre Aérienne Illustrée); Lufbery, Cazenove de Pradines (from La Guerre Aérienne Illustrée); Havet's grave marker at Thiaucourt cemetery (he also appears on the Monument des Morts in Avallon (Yonne))