February 1915

Submitted by James McCudden

In early 1915, No 3 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps had been partially re-equipped with two-seater monoplane Morane Parasols. The aircraft were fitted with wireless sets to allow them to perform their new function of correcting the fall of shot of the artillery. They also had a machine gun to deal with any German aircraft they encountered. Although Corporal James McCudden was a mechanic, he often volunteered to fly.

"One morning I went out with Mr Conran, as gunner, to look for Germans. We left the aerodrome about 10am and got our height over Bethune. The warping-wing Morane had a very fine climb for those days, and I remember we got to 6,000ft in 12 minutes! We crossed the lines just south of the La Bassée Canal and then turned north-east. I saw three little yellow specks over La Bassée, and my pilot said they were Germans. They were well above us. Going north at 8,000ft over Violanes I heard a c-r-r-r-mp, then another, and looking above me saw several balls of white smoke floating away.

The pilot turned to mislead ‘Archie’ [anti-aircraft fire] of whom I was having my first bad experience. However, I can honestly say that I did not feel any more than a certain curiosity as to where the next one was going to burst. The shrapnel bullets left a thin line of smoke, so that as each shell burst the shrapnel came from each burst in the shape of a fan."

McCudden and the pilot escaped unscathed. The RFC nickname for anti-aircraft fire, ‘Archibald’ or ‘Archie’, derived from a wonderful monologue performed by the music hall artiste George Robey concerning a nagging wife: “Archibald, certainly not! / Get back to work at once, sir, like a shot. / When single you could waste time spooning / But lose work now for honeymooning! / Archibald, certainly not!”

The first pilot reputed to have used the term was the 18-year-old Amyas Borton, while he was serving with 5 Squadron, RFC. Borton was renowned for shouting out “Archibald, certainly not!” whenever a shell burst near his aircraft. An innocuous nickname, but many young pilots were killed by ‘Archie’.


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January 1915
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