The following are first hand quotes and diary extracts from a pilots flight during the First World War. They are taken from Paul Allens book 'Neath a foreign sky.'
Extract: Pilots account
Much of the acclaim for the successful achievements of the opening phase of the Arras Offensive can without a doubt be placed squarely on the shoulders of the airmen of the Royal Flying Corps. A pilot had wrote of the opening day of the offensive:
'Dawn was due at 5-30 on Easter Monday, and that was the exact hour set for the beginning of the Battle of Arras. We were up and had our machines out of the hangers while it was still night. The beautiful weather of a few hours before had vanished. A strong, chill wind was blowing from the east, and dark, menacing clouds were scudding along low overhead.
We were detailed to fly at a low altitude over the advancing infantry, firing into the enemy trenches, and dispersing any groups of men, or fatigue parties we happened to see in the vicinity of the lines. Some phases of this work are known as 'contact patrols', the machines keeping track always of the infantry advance, watching points where they may be held up and returning from time to time to report just how the battle is going. Working with the infantry in a big attack is a most exiting business. It means flying close to the ground and passing through our own shells and those of the enemy.
The storm had delayed the coming of day by several minutes, but as soon as there was light enough to make our presence worthwhile, we were in the air and braving the elements just as the troops were below us. Lashed by the gale, the wind cut the face as we moved against the enemy. The ground seemed to be one mass of bursting shells. Farther back, where the guns were firing, the hot flames flashing from thousands of muzzles gave the impression of a long ribbon of incandescent light. The air seemed shaken and literally full of shells on their missions of death and destruction. Over and over again one felt a sudden jerk under a wing tip, and the machine would heave quickly. This meant that a shell had passed within a few feet of you.
The waves of attacking infantry as they came out of their trenches and trudged forward behind the curtain of shells laid down by the artillery had been an amazing sight. The men seemed to wander across No Mans Land and into the enemy trenches, as if the battle was a great bore to them. From the air it looked as though they did not realise they were at war and were taking it all entirely too easy. That is the way with clockwork warfare. These troops had been drilled to move forward at a given pace. They had been timed over and over again in marching a certain distance and from this timing the 'creeping' or rolling barrage had been mathematically worked out. And the battle, so calmly entered into, was one of the tensest, bitterest of the whole world war'
[Source 'Winged Warfare' Major W.A. [Billy] Bishop, V.C. D.S.O. M.C. Hodder & Stoughton, 1918.]