When I boarded the S.S. Alameda at Long Beach, Calif., many years ago to sail for Sydney, Australia, I noted in my journal, "I am not looking forward to this long voyage. I find the more I travel alone, the less I like it."
A week later I was some 5,000 miles southwest of the North American continent with a much improved disposition. I made the following entry in my journal. "There are only 11 passengers, including myself, aboard this small cargo vessel. Two plan to disembark in Samoa, four in Tahiti, two in Tonga and the remaining three go all the way to Sydney."I am one of the latter three - the other two are a very charming couple named Hadrahan, Olive and Quintin. They are from England. We had dinner together last night. Olive did most of the talking. She is a small, slender woman with high cheek bones and very bright blue eyes.
"She smiles as she talks, which is quite natural because she tends toward happy, pleasant stories."
I asked her how she and Quintin met. "Oh, I was very fortunate, indeed, to have married at all. The First World War took a terrible toll on the young men from Chelmsford, which is where I lived. I wanted so to marry and have a family, so I caught the train and found work in London. I lived with my aunt in Chelsea. She told me a great deal about a young lad from Chelsea named Hadrahan who flew with the LaFayette Escadrille in France.
"The first time I saw his picture in the paper standing next to his airplane in his jodhpur breeches and white scarf I said to myself, `Young man, if you return from this war in one piece, I plan to marry you.' And I did just that!"
As I recall, Quintin Hadrahan was a stout man of medium height and a full head of white hair. His glasses rested on not only his nose, but his full red cheeks. He had a very gentle manner about him and it was obvious he adored his sweet wife and preferred she do the talking.
But he had flown with the most famous squadron of the First World War; Olive had not. Only if I asked a question directly of him was it possible to obtain his response alone. Mr. Hadrahan had a peculiar retentive mind for detail.
What type of aircraft had he flown? "I was checked out in the French-built Nieuports first, but later in the fall of 1917 we were able to fly the new English Sopwith Camels."
How did you like the Sopwith Camels? "We worried at first about a machine gun that was synchronized to fire through the propeller. This was a new invention from Sopwith. It clearly gave the pilot a better aim, but if it took a blade out, you would jolly well have had it.
"Sopwith must have known how we felt because he flew over from England with the first flight of the new Camels. He took the time to explain to each of us how the machine gun fired through the propeller, then he demonstrated it - both on the ground and in the air. After talking with him I never doubted his word that it would work. It was a very reliable aircraft compared to the Nieuports."
Why did you fly without parachutes? "The French Air Force did not consider them practical. Only in the last months of the war were they introduced. I never wore one nor did anyone I flew with wear one. If our aircraft became disabled, we tried to land them in friendly territory. Without parachutes, we did not have many alternatives.
"If an engine caught on fire, the smoke could asphyxiate you. It was not unusual to see one of our pilots crawl out of his cockpit and slide down the fuselage until he reached the tail assembly. There he would wait until the aircraft either burned or crashed.
"They were all brave men. They would wave goodbye to the rest of us. They were heroic models. At the end, they knew how to behave."