Skip to content

France: A Lesson from the U.S. 185th Aero Squadron, World War I

November 7, 2010

Descending the Cairo Side a novel of the traveling life

Available as an e-book on

Buy the book on Amazon


Nobody fights these days like the various combatants who inhabited the battlefields of World War I – or do they?

My grandfather was stationed in France with the 185th Aero Squadron of the First Pursuit Group.  As a pilot, he was unhappy that he was unable to fly combat missions due to his poor eyesight.  So he sat at the airstrip night after night while his buddies went off to war and glory.

He recounted that the incident of which he was most proud occurred very late one evening.  He was the only person awake at the field, reading.  He heard the sound of a wounded aircraft over the runway.  Realizing that one of his squadron’s pilots was trying to land blindly in the dark, he raced outside and illuminated the strip.  The pilot landed safely and thanked my grandfather, crediting him with saving his life.

1) My grandfather, Neil McMath, in uniform during World War I

He brought back an interesting artifact from his time in France.  A post card, one of many produced overseas and meant to be mailed to loved ones Stateside.  I inherited the card and immediately noticed the simple poem at the bottom, author unknown.

2) Squadron post card

“The roar of our Camels grew fainter
As farther and farther in flight
The Huns, those hospital raiders
Were chased by our Pilots each night”

I made some inquiries as to the origin and meaning of these words and received the following response online from a chat room frequented by early air war buffs:

The line in the poem which claims the Hun as hospital raiders is probably referring to the German night bombing raid of the 19th/20th of May 1918. The German raid of 15 bombers was aimed at the Bridge at Etaples. They missed & hit surrounding camps & hospitals. On being informed of this a captured German bomber crew were indignant that hospitals should be placed near targets of strategic importance.

— Austin08, Adelaide S.A.

It seems the concept of the “human shield” was not invented by “terrorists” and “insurgents” in the modern era but was implemented by our own military as far back as 1918 and presumably has its roots in a dim past we can no longer even imagine.

The Huns were rightly and suitably indignant.


Descending the Cairo Side a novel of the traveling life

Available as an e-book on

Buy the book on Amazon

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Bruce permalink
    November 9, 2010 3:50 am

    Hmmm. I surmise the hospitals/camps (camps??) were there long before any germans decided a bridge could be deemed ‘strategic’.

    • November 9, 2010 1:00 pm

      What seems to have been the case is:

      1) the hospitals were placed around the bridge to act as a deterrent to bombing
      2) the Germans did not know the hospitals were there

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: