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The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, October 1908

In Nubibus

page 66

In Nubibus

"In plays there is always a plot and in real life there is none."

Lyndon.

DDoubtless Bay had reported that the cable was cut and Wakapuaka had failed to call up La Perouse. But the most serious information came from Ethergram Transmission Station X 34 to the effect that it had unexpectedly recorded several broken. messages:—"Japanese . . . . aeroplanes . . . . dreadful slaughter." The news was posted at the offices of the Citizen and within an hour all work had ceased. Thousands anxiously paraded the streets. A cigar-shaped automobile whizzed through the crowds to Buckle-street to the War Office. Late into the night the teeming hundreds awaited the result of the Council of War.

* * * *

The task of the Council of War was nearly finished. For three long hours they had sat in wordy and anxious deliberation. His Excellency the Governor who was presiding had counselled caution, but the newly-appointed Defence Council had determined on immediate action. "The first aeroplane Corps must be called out. The Submarine Scouts from Auckland and the Bluff must deploy across the Tasman Sea at a depth of a hundred fathoms. Every hour they are to rise to the surface, reconnoitre for aeroplanes, and report to Lord Howe Island. The Christchurch Derigible Balloon Section to perform police duty on both coasts. Major-General Jakihughes, D.S.O. to have charge of the Aeroplane Corps , Vice-Admiral White (late Commander S.S. Moturoa) to command the submarines, and Brigadier Jakihume the Dirigible Balloons.

* * * *

At 8.10 p.m. Professor Bauchop, Dean of the Faculty of Military Science, had just commenced his lecture on "Swagger and Tent Pegging" when his Newbould pocket telephone rang furiously.

"Hello. What? To-morrow? 5 a.m.? Imperative? . . . Very well, sir." He disconnects. "I say you fellows the jolly Defence Council has ordered out the Aero page 67 plane Corps at six o'clock to-morrow morning. We've not got awfully much time to spare; it means that we leave here at 5 a.m. Altitude one to two thousand feet; uniforms accordingly."

* * * *

At 4.30 a.m. stray shafts of grey light were forcing their way above the Rona Bay mountains. The aged firs in the College ground, wet with the glittering dew of an October night, were resonant with the twittering of birds. Silently the figure of one who was ever to the fore where V.C.'s fame was at stake, glided towards the barracks. 'Twas Dixon. He was the first to appear. Others soon followed him. At first there was some difficulty in moving the aeroplane, the Semper Ultimus from the planage but after much toil it was finally brought out and moored on the lower terrace. The men fell in and were then addressed by Navigating Lieutenant-Hitchings who in the first place apologised for the absence of Commander Beere who had had to return home for his Bromose. He then asked the men to remember that, "Victoria College expects every man to do his duty." A by-stander, one de la Mare, thought a an old student that it would be advisable to substitute the word "recommends" for the word "expects," but Commander Beere rushed up, assumed command, ordered the men aboard, took his own place, touched the elevation lever, turned a wheel and the aeroplane floated off with de la Mare still moving his amendment below. After removing the chimney pots from the College, it moved rapidly northward and collided very effectively with the Kiosk. Lieutenant Hitchings jumped to the rescue, adjusted the steering gear and the Semper Ultimus, finally took its position three cable lengths N.N.W. of Somes Islands. The points of vantage were crowded with spectators. Zak was early on the scene and the kinematograph operators were soon at work. At last the long-looked-for signal was flashed from the heights of Mount Victoria:—"The Aeroplane Corps will echelon at twenty cables length in a south-westerly direction and await further orders." In half an hour the Fleet was an almost invisible line on the horizon.

* * * *

The Semper Ultimus on the left wing was in the midst of a continuous shower of shot and shell. The fore turret was badly damaged. The casualties had been heavy and in page 68 subordination had also assisted to reduce the fighting strength. Some complained that there were more officers than men. Chief Petty-Airman Inder had been consigned to space for refusing to don an armoured helmet. Lieut. Short, Officer in charge of Parachutes, who had caught a cold in the head from the same cause, was ordered to report himself to the Surgeon of the Fleet. At a crucial stage, a difference of opinion arose as to the correct interpretation of a signal from the Flagship and while the dispute was in progress a Prussite shell carried away the starboard shaft couplings and had rendered the starboard propeller useless. The Semper Ultimus temporarily unmanageable, drifted away to leeward and at once the whole of the fire of the enemy's right wing was concentrated on her. The havoc was terrible; artillery men fell at their posts and at last the Commander, the bravest of the brave, met his end while personally superintending repairing operations. Lieutenant Hitchings immediately assumed command of the wreck, ordered Quarter-Master Captain Cook to double the supply of grog and the torpedo nets to be got out. Everywhere the enemy's aeroplanes were gaining ground; night was fast setting in and it was evident that only a miracle could avert a crushing defeat. At dusk however, a southerly gale suddenly sprang up and throughout the night the Semper Ultimus was driven northwards. At intervals during the night crashes could be heard and still another part of the vast airship would be carried away and more men would see their last hour at hand. When dawn broke, I was alone and the wreck had drifted through Cook Strait to Watts' Peninsula. Only luck and the remaining propeller kept the machine from capsizing. Suddenly, when I was above Wonderland, five hundred feet in the air, the propeller caught in a wire connected with the rudder; both snapped the Semper Ultimus overturned and I was hurtled through space to the fields below.

* * * *

"By Jove my head's spinning. What could have happened?" So I asked myself. I opened my eyes. Standing around were many footballers some in green and some in red and blue jerseys; O'Leary was rubbing my stomach; de la Mare rushed up with something in a flask; one nip and I was better. Then—I resumed my position behind the serum.