Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The Winged Victory - The first bit

29th October, 1915

After receiving some thanks and recognition for their part in the destruction of the Graf Schmidt, the group are graciously given a week’s leave and allowed to travel to Paris to rest and recuperate.  After a boozy night in the officer’s mess, Pankhurst and Captain Herbert are on hand the next morning to wave the officers off as they hitch a lift with a supply convoy of several trucks heading for Paris.

Before they leave, Parkhurst tells them that their patron, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is in Paris.  He has requested their audience tomorrow at 11am at the Grand Quartier Général, the general headquarters for the French army.

As the trucks weave their way south, the group can see the scars of the trenches illuminated by the early morning autumn sunlight.  Artillery barrages are hammering the entrenched German positions, there’s no let up for either side in this war.

After a reasonably short journey the group once again finds themselves in Paris.  Belgian refugees still clog the streets and troops march in preparation for active duty on the western front.

Captain Parker has given them the name of a small boarding house they have been allotted to, the Hôtel les Degrés de Notre Dame Located in the heart of Paris, just opposite the Seine and Notre Dame Cathedral.

After being led upstairs to their stuffy but comfortable rooms by the surly bellboy, they can relax and unwind.   Paris is famous for its celebrated nightlife and the pilots look forwards to a savouring whatever Paris can offer then in the way of distraction.

The following morning, probably with hangovers, the group can dress, breakfast and make their way to the French general headquarters.

The French general headquarters (GQG) was organised into a complex series of departments and bureaux that changed frequently throughout the war. This structure has been criticised by historians for failing to encourage co-operation between departments and for widespread infighting. There were also concerns about the autonomy and power vested in GQG. French policy, laid down in 1913, had been for the two most important field armies, the north and north-east, to retain operational independence. GQG, under Joffre, assumed control of these armies in December 1915 and retained them until his replacement by Nivelle when the Minister of War, Joseph Gallieni, raised concerns that the pre-war policy was being violated. GQG failed accurately to assess German casualties, basing military operations on wildly optimistic assessments of the weakness of German units and reserves.

At this time in the war, GSQ is based at the Hôtel du Grand Condé in the Chantilly district of Paris.   The hotel is a grand affair, seven floors tall in the Chantilly district of Paris.  Known before the war as a retreat for the rich and famous, the hotel has been somewhat remodelled to accommodate the French army command.

 This is also the home of The Bureau des Phénomènes Mystérieux Non Expliqués (Bureau of Unexplained Mysterious Phenomena)

MI-13’s head is there in consultation with his opposite number, Captain Roland Dutoit.  After making themselves known to the officers in the reception area of the hotel, they are escorted by a subaltern to the basement of the hotel.  Down a flight of rough stone stairs, deep under the still functioning kitchen, the group are escorted into the bowels of the hotel.  At the end of the twisting corridor past filing cabinets and boxes a thick oak door has a neatly printed sign hung from it saying simply BDPME, under that is a small note asking visitors to knock.

After they knock and are invited in by a lightly accented French voice, they see the small suite of offices are covered with filing cabinets, bookcases and desks.  There are no windows and a few and women in civilian clothing work studiously at their posts.  Captain Dutoit meets them by the entrance and warmly shakes their hands with Gallic flourish, he is a tall, neatly dressed man with a glasses and a rakish imperial goatee, and he greets them:

“Ah the famous flyers, the knights of the air! Incroyable! Excuse me gentlemen, we see few heroes down here in Le warren du lapin.  Please, if you’d be so kind, Monsieur Doyle awaits us in my office. »

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