The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
One of the most important duties allotted to a Flying Corps squadron is that of aerial reconnaissance, and certainly it is the most interesting; for on long trips, a huge panoramic view of enemy country is spread out below and the trained observer gathers information upon which the fate of armies often hangs.
The training of an observer for this branch of work cannot be efficiently carried out behind the lines, and thus, after learning map-reading, report making and machine guns, the would-be "Eyes of the Army" is sent to a service squadron for further instruction in the school of practical experience, over the lines. From the time of his arrival the real education in the art of aerial observation commences, as, day after day, he crosses the enemy lines as gunner in an escort machine, so that, during occasional spells from sky-gazing for Huns, he may glance earthwards and gain some knowledge of how the land lies in reference to his maps. The responsibility of protecting a reconnaissance machine is naturally great, consequently glimpses of the ground are not over plentiful, and it is not until one has done somewhere in the vicinity of 50 hours over the lines that one's knowledge of the country is sufficient to justify an order from the Powers that be to do a reccon-naissance.
Having passed through the initial stages of instruction, I was pleased to receive orders to do a reconnaissance. With the feeling of a man who rises to make his first public speech, I spent the evening before the great day getting my maps in order and the information supplied by previous observers tabulated for easy reference. The day broke clear and bright, with a gentle breeze blowing off the sea; and after an early breakfast, when final instructions were issued to the pilot as to my proposed route, we set out. After testing our guns out to sea, with the engine pulling beautifully as if conscious of its reserve of power, we made direct for our objective, climbing as we went, and by the time we reached the region of importunate "Archies" we were at a height of about 10,000 feet.
A cloudless azure sky and a crisp air made visibility extremely good. Although I had been over this particular stretch of country a dozen times, and imagined myself thoroughly familiar with it, I soon discovered, when I commenced the reconnaissance, what a cursory knowledge I really had. The big towns and rail way centres were, of course, easily recognised, but with the mud villages, which from an information point of view are often vitally important, I found myself all at sea, and it was only by constant reference to the map that I was able to locate many of them and their associated camps with any degree of certainty. To the aerial observer
everything has its meaning, tents, shelters, marquees, dumps, etc, and in one's early attempts the main difficulty is to discriminate between them and stones, trees or small huts; whilst the Turk adds to one's trouble by using every means at his disposal to screen them from observation. Movement on roads and railways, mechanical and horse transport parks must all be carefully noted, as the volume of transport, coupled with the number of tents, shelters, dumps, etc., in a certain sector enable a very shrewd estimate of the troops therein to be calculated.
On reaching the aerodrome the worst ordeal has to be faced, as, feeling irritable and dirty after three hours flying, one is whirled off by car to hand in a detailed report to the intelligence staff officer, who, seated in comfortable quarters, cross examines unmercifully as to what was seen and not seen.
To an observer doing his first reconnaissance that visit to the brass hat is a perfect nightmare, and, personally, when the interview was over, I heaved a sigh of relief and bolted for camp as fast as the car could take me, for a wash and change into more seasonable clothing.