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The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918

Bird's Eye View

page 13

Bird's Eye View

A flying man's duties are many and varied, for both pilots and observers who are new to service work. The main job is that of escort. My first trip over the lines was taken as observer in the escort machine on the daily reconnaissance; and as the weather was clear and blight, visibility was good.

Leaving the ground at 09 00, we rapidly climbed, as we streaked for the Hun lines, to a height of 10000 feet. Spread beneath us was a delightful panorama that embraced a huge area of the Holy Land. The responsibility of protecting a reconnaissance machine from the depredations of marauding Huns is no light one; and vision of this earthly paradise could be gained only when "Archies" were being venomously spat up from below, and vigilance could, to a certain extent, be relaxed, as the Hun does not find it safe to enter his own barrage.

From the security of terra firma, I have often watched the battle of wits between enemy pilots and our own "Archies"; but on this, trip I had my baptismal fire, an experience that is certainly exciting. Since we gained the air supremacy on this front, the Hun has been cautious with his machines, only coming to fighting grips when in superior numbers, or having the advantage of surprise; consequently, the job of interfering with our work devolves mainly on their "Archies."

It is a very windy proposition to sit in a "bus" that is performing all the insane tricks a pilot can think of, and see those black puffs of smoke creep gradually closer, and finally hear the "wouf-wouf" of a couple that have burst alongside—a fact that signifies "Jacko" has the range.

On this occasion, whilst over Nablus (the Shecham of ancient times), [ was concentrating my attention on the sky above, with my mind full of black crosses, when the machine began to tide slip in a manner that caused me to look around, and I observed that we had suddenly run into a nest of ' Archies " They dogged our footsteps for 20 minutes or so which, although not long as time goes, is a veritable age when one happens to be in the "bus" receiving attention.

On the return journey, when I had slightly more leisure to watch the changing scenes below, I noticed the contract between ancient and modern as presented in the native villages, which appear as unsightly blobs of mud huts dotting the country side, and the well laid out Jew and German settlements.

* * * * * *

For two days our machines had been standing by to do a reconnaissance, but wet and misty weather had made it impossible even to leave the aerodrome; so that, when the weather cleared a little, we were delighted to receive orders to make an attempt. After leaving the ground we went out to sea and tested the guns and then circled round the aerodrome, searching for a break in the clouds through which we might rise to the clear sky above them; and by means of much manœeuvring we eventually succeeded.

On the first part of the trip, the clouds were rather broken, so that occasional glimpses of the ground were possible; but before reaching the Holy City, the ranks closed up and we were travelling over an apparently endless sea of cloud. As far as the eye could range to the West, out over the Mediterranean, was a consolidated mass of cloud; it seemed as if in the twinkling of an eye, we had been transplanted to the Antarctic regions, and instead of flying over the Holy Land, were over that endless sea of snow and ice. Although possessing no personal knowledge of the Polar regions, I could not help but imagine that the fantastic cloud formation spread below, with its huge projections and jagged pinnacles of glistening white, and ever changing appearance, was a replica of a frozen sea. The Jordan valley, and t, e Dead Sea itself, evidently due to their extremely low altitude, were entirely free from clouds, and we were able to do our job. On the other side of the valley, however, the clouds resting on the crests of the Hills of Moab offered an impenetrable barrier.

Toot ling along above the clouds, well throttled down, looking for a gap through which it is possible to descend to the regions below is, to a certain extent, an exciting operation. To be caught in a cloud is an experience heartily feared by all airmen; for once enveloped in the clinging density of its grip, all sense of direction is lost, and one's nerves become keyed up to concert pitch, and the eyes strain to their utmost, searching for any signs of other machines or possible break in the blank wall of mist. When over hilly country, like Judea,
The Pilot, to the bird: "Yes, it's all right for you, you haven't crashed!"

The Pilot, to the bird: "Yes, it's all right for you, you haven't crashed!"

where the clouds rest on the crests and fill the gorges, it is dangerous to descend; for the possibility of running into the side of a hill and certain death is not pleasant, even to think of; and climbing to higher altitudes is invariably resorted to. On many occasions, pilots caught in a heavy cloud for-some time have found themselves, when released from its importunate attentions, well over the enen y lines, with barely enough petrol to make our own lines and safety.

On this occasion, fortune favoured us, and we discovered a likely looking gap over the gorge through which the railway wends its tortuous way to Jerusalem; so with nose down and the wires playing a merry tune, we rapidly leached the clear air beneath, but rather too close to the hills for comfortable flying. The wind rushing round the gorges was very gusty, making pickets so numerous that the lens was buffeted hither and thither like a cork on an angry sea; and had I not been used to the vagaries of flying, air sickness would have been my lot.

Although, from above, the whole field of clouds presented an appearance of glistening purity, so seldom seen in earthly whites, once we descended through them, they rapidly changed both individually and collectively to a threatening black that promised copious falls of moisture on the farms below.