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

Bird's Eye Views

page 12

Bird's Eye Views.

From an aeroplane the view of all towns and villages is entirely different from that obtained on the ground; a person who had lived in a certain place for years would seldom, if ever, recognise it if suddenly given the "bird's eye view." Where, on the ground, one sees, at the most, a couple of streets and a row of shops or buildings, with their display of merchandise, from the air the plan of the whole place is spread beneath in its entirety, showing up, with absolute impartiality, both the beauty and ugliness of its design.

To the aerial observer every collection of houses, whether it be city, town or village, becomes possessed with an individuality all its own, so that a glimpse through a break in the clouds is sufficient to lead to instant identification. It is the mental visualization of the peculiarities of the centres of population that must be cultivated to the utmost if efficiency and accuracy as an aerial observer are to assured. In Palestine this individuality is very marked, even in the hundreds of mud villages scattered everywhere, which, to the casual observer, are as like as two peas.

Cities, towns and villages derive their individuality, firstly, from their relation to one another, and, secondly, from their relation to those permanent topographical features that are so prominent from the air, namely, roads, railways, rivers, canals, wadis, dense woods, lakes, sea coasts,sand patches, dams and, in a few instances, deep gorges. Average hills and valleys disappear entirely from one's view at big heights and cannot, in consequence, be depended upon as a means for rapid recognition. Certain places become invested with a special significance to all airmen because they are well known centres for our importunate friend "Archie"; and even the greenest observers very quickly learn to know them without any further aid than the "whouf, whouf" of the first couple of bursting shells.

Ludd, the birth place of St. George, the Patron Saint of England, is like an island set in a sea of orchards, and, to the airman, is a most striking landmark; whilst Ramleh, on the old Roman road from Jerusalem to Jaffa, might represent some huge octopus, with its innumerable roads radiating like tentacles in every direction. Jaffa, on the sea coast, between flanking sand dunes, give the impression of some great amphibious animal, ready to slip into the water on the slightest provocation. Gaza, also on the coast, is easily recognised by a huge T formed in the centre of the city by the two main roads. Beersheba stands out on its own as the only place, except the Jew and German settlements, that I have so far seen in Palestine, that has been properly laid out to plan after the style of modern cities; every other town throughout the length and breadth of the country just seems to have grown, like Topsy, any old how.

Jerusalem the Golden, which is instantly picked out by the large rectangular area floored with stone, from which rises the dome of the Mosque of Omar, and its relation to the Dead Sea, can never be mistaken. Jericho, the City of the Plain, is now only a relic of its great past, when, in the days of Joshua, it was surrounded by a huge wall. To the east lies the Jordan, winding its sinuous, snakey course to the Dead Sea on the south—two landmarks that make identification from the air a very simple matter.

One could go on multiplying instances of this individuality, in such places as Nablus, Haifa, Kerak, Amman, Samaria and Nazareth. Often, in war time, a town or village will pass its individuality ontoasystem of trenches andredoubts, because of their strength and the fact that they stand out with such wonderful clarity to the airman.

One of the most satisfactory ways of imprinting the peculiarities of any place on the mind, is to study the aerial photograph, which gives an exact replica of it as seen from above. Besides adding to the efficiency and accuracy of one's work, the study of this individuality of towns is extremely interesting and fascinating. Personally, I have spent many an hour studying the photographs of insignificant villages, and locating them on my next trip over the lines.