Soon To Publish An Epic Book

This month my Roundwood Press publishing company will release a classic book.

The book is titled “Missing” and was last published more than 90 years ago.

This true story was written by First World War pilot Lieutenant Talbot Baines Bruce of the U.K. Royal Flying Corps. It tells how, after his Sopwith Camel biplane was downed in German controlled Belgium, he escaped capture.

Cover of the new edition of “Missing”

The author spent 13 weeks hiding in safe houses before he escaped into the Netherlands. The fast paced story tells how the author moved between towns while pursued by German soldiers. This riveting recollection was a best seller when it was published in 1930, and it was reprinted five times.

Twenty year old Lieutenant Talbot Baines Bruce in 1917

                  

Map showing route of author for new book edition

The reason for publishing this book is because of a personal connection. My parents moved our family from near the city of Chicago in the U.S. to live in a village in County Wicklow in Ireland for some years. I was a young boy at the time.

Talbot and his wife Mollie were our neighbors in the village named Delgany. They lived a half a mile down an adjacent country lane. My father, then in his 60’s, regularly played golf with Talbot. Once, on Talbot’s birthday my parents invited him to our house for a party. I was 13 or 14 years old and baked and frosted a three-layered cake for him. Because he was born in Australia, my parents cut out an Australian map from the World Book Encyclopedia. We taped this to a toothpick and stuck it into the cake.

Images from the route in Belgium, as well as a Sopwith Camel biplane

Later, my parents told me that Bruce had been a war hero in World War One. They borrowed a copy of his hardcopy book and later spoke about the story.

Almost ten years ago I began researching what happened to this book. I was able to track down and purchase two original hardcopies. I researched what became of the publishers who went out of business, then hired a London law firm to track down the heirs so I could procure copyright to the book.

In reprinting the book “Missing” I’ve kept the original text almost exactly as it was originally written. However, some modifications have been made—including creating a new cover image, adding a book subtitle, replacing the map, as well as enhancing the original photograph of the author. Also, appendices have been added regarding the history, language and context of times associated with the story (as well as a note on the theme of good fortune during Bruce’s adventure).

Entering the town of Battice in winter; Bruce passed through this town via train

“Missing” is a captivating story that begins at an airfield in France one rainy dawn, and ends, after dramatic near misses and confrontations, with a one-on-one meeting between the author and King George in the U.K. You will enjoy the pace and imagery of this captivating book.

“Missing” – Three Months In Enemy Territory will be available on Amazon later this month as an e-book.

The opening paragraphs of the book are below. When Bruce describes dealing with the aircraft, remember that a Sopwith Camel biplane was constructed mostly of cloth and wood.

CHAPTER I.

I HAVE been meaning to write this for the last twelve years, but the rough notes I made after my return to England have lain untouched, owing, I am afraid, partly at least to indolence; but perhaps it is not too late to interest people in my experiences during the thirteen weeks—i.e., from 6th November 1917 to 1st February 1918—I spent in enemy territory disguised as a Belgian peasant, eventually escaping over the German-Dutch frontier.

Let me begin with that memorable day; with the summons of the batman[1], unnecessarily early, on the morning of 6th November, when it was still dark. I cursed the man, and, after a decent interval, got up.

It was raining hard when I walked down to the tarmac and there found three other unfortunates, all very grumpy at that hour. Our C.O. (Major R. Raymond Barker) appeared a little later—he was never known to be absent from the aerodrome when a patrol was due to leave—and we discussed the prospects of the weather clearing. The half-hour it was decided we should wait was prolonged to an hour and a half, and then, the sky clearing, we prepared to go. The mechanics swung the propellers, which started quite easily, and after running our engines full out to make sure they were going properly, the chocks were removed from the wheels, we taxied out into the middle of the aerodrome, opened up, and took off. We left the ground at 7.45.

After circling once round the aerodrome we headed for the lines, leaving Albert on our right, and began climbing steadily. It began to grow thick again, so we climbed through a thin layer of cloud to about 8000 feet, where, looking down through a gap, I could see, very faintly, the straight road between Albert and Bapaume. We continued climbing through other layers of cloud until about 12,000 feet up. My compass had been showing our course as due east, generally speaking, and I guessed we were somewhere near Bapaume. This guess proved correct, for after a few minutes the town itself became visible through an opening in the clouds, and that was the last time I saw the ground for nearly two hours. We were now 2000 feet above the clouds and 13,000 feet up; below was a vast white field which completely blotted out the earth. The sky above was clear blue, and the sun was shining with magnificent effect on the clouds; the glare, however, was dazzling, and I wished for the tinted goggles which are such a comfort under these conditions.

The air was absolutely calm; my engine was going perfectly, and those of the other three machines appeared to be doing the same. We were in very close formation, only about ten yards between each, and flying in the shape of a diamond. We were still heading due east when our leader turned a little to the south; I thought he was going to make for home, as by this time it seemed pretty certain that no German machines would be up on such a day. However, he did not, continuing to fly on a south-easterly course.

The wind had been slightly behind us ever since we left the aerodrome, and had increased considerably in strength; and to this was probably due to the fact that we flew farther over the lines than we intended. After flying south-east for twenty-five minutes I felt that we were going much too far into enemy country, so went as close as I could to our leader, waved to him, and pointed west. He waved back cheerily, but did not alter his course, and we continued flying till it seemed good to him to turn north. He then led us down through the clouds to see, if possible, where we were. To cut the story short, we lost one another in one thick layer of cloud, found one another in a gap between that and a layer lower down, lost one another again in that, and, emerging, recovered formation once more. We had no idea where we were, so the only thing to do was to go on till we saw the ground; we had come down to 300 feet before we recognised Belgian territory by the characteristically small fields, chateaux, and woods. Through the sleet and rain the ground was only just visible, and after hopping over towns, chimneys, and woods for ten minutes, our leader decided to land that we might ascertain our whereabouts, and selected a very good field for the purpose.

It was while in the very act of landing that my propeller stopped; the same thing happened to another machine, but the other two kept going. We got out and joined in consultation, and while talking two farmers appeared from nowhere, as people do on such occasions. It was my lot, as possessor of a very small knowledge of French, to find out from the men the name of the nearest town; and in answer to my inquiry one of the two gesticulated with his arm, saying, “Liége there, Namur there.” That was quite enough; we were at least 120 miles the wrong side of the enemy’s lines, and the sooner we got away the better. The propeller of the other machine which had stopped was set going easily enough, but mine fairly gave up the ghost; we could not get a kick out of it. In desperation I left the machine and urged the others to go: I would enlist the help of local men to start my propeller.

I do not care to dwell on my own feelings as I watched them go. In a few minutes they were out of sight, and I turned away to my own machine, about which some thirty peasants had now gathered. I chose two, the most intelligent-looking of the group, and showed them how a propeller should be swung. They were eager to help, and turned to with a will—I never saw two men swing a propeller as those two Belgians did,—and if sheer physical effort could have started a Clerget engine, mine would have done its duty. Time was precious; and after quite five minutes strenuous swinging by these two noble fellows—it would have been a serious matter for them if the enemy learned they had tried to help me,—I came to the conclusion that further endeavours would be useless, and the best—indeed, the only—thing to be done was to burn the machine and get away before any of the enemy arrived. So I turned on what petrol was left in the tank, not very much, and, kneeling under the machine, dropped a match on it. The petrol burned very quietly at first, but in time the flames mounted, licking round engine and cockpit, and warned me that sooner I got away the better; six or seven hundred rounds ammunition in the belts of the guns, and ere[2] long the explosion of these would make noise enough to rouse the country for a mile round.

[Talbot Baines Bruce. 1930.

Copyright Tom Mullen. 2023.]


[1] Meaning: airman assigned to a commissioned officer as a personal assistant

[2] Meaning: before

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