Aerial images of the Great War give an insight into the conflict only matched by the panoramas taken at ground level by the Royal Engineers. Aerial imagery was made by the Royal Flying Corps using cameras normally fixed to the side of the aircraft and developed with the print being the same size as the very large glass negative, giving it incredible resolution. Such images are often so clear that even human beings can be picked out on some photographs.
This image taken of the Bellewaarde Ridge in July 1917 – just prior to the Third Battle of Ypres – shows the level of destruction in the Ypres Salient by this time. Part of the old Menin Road is visible cutting across the lower part of the image, along with a massive network of trenches and thousands of shell craters. In the top left-hand corner the mine craters on the ridge can be seen; many of these date back to tunnelling operations here in 1915 and 1916, and some still survive today.
More than another year of war was to come after this image was taken so that by the end of 1918 the whole landscape around the city of Ypres was a vast wilderness of shell holes and smashed ground where no-one lived again until well into the early 1920s. Only from the air can that true level of destruction really be grasped.
09/03/2012 | Categories: Battlefields, Belgium, Flanders, Great War, Tunnellers, Western Front, WW1, Ypres | Tags: 1917, Bellewaarde, Passchendaele, RFC, WW1, Ypres | 1 Comment
The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) is a formation not normally associated with campaigns outside of the Western Front, however this image shows men from the RFC in a very famous setting in early 1916. One of the main squadrons operating in Egypt at this time was 14 Squadron, and these men well be from them. They were based at a number of locations around the Suez Canal from 1915, keeping an eye on the Turks in Palestine and tribes in the Western Desert; towards the end of 1916 this involved in assisting T.E. Lawrence: ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.
The RFC men in the photo are wearing the familiar ‘Maternity Jacket‘ uniform which must have been fairly warm in desert conditions and possibly means they had not been ‘in theatre’ that long. I once interviewed a WW1 veteran who said that this location was the most popular place to have your photo taken in Egypt, with the backdrop of the Sphinx and Pyramids. The cost of the photo was relatively cheap and soldiers would be queuing up to have them done; a little board was placed in front of the camels with a number on (visible in this photo) and you then came back, quoted the number, and got your postcards to send home. I have since interviewed men who served in Egypt in WW2 and post-war and it seems little changed over 50-odd years!
A nice touch in the photo is that just below the chin of the Sphinx are some men of the Australian Imperial Force; Diggers whose iconic Slouch Hats are clearly visible. These could be from some of the AIF units then assembling in Egypt or some veterans just back from Gallipoli. Many of the famous Ancient Egyptian structures seen here are still covered in graffiti from this period.
10/02/2012 | Categories: Egypt, Gallipoli, Great War, Royal Flying Corps, WW1 | Tags: 1916, Airmen, Egypt, Pyramids, RFC, Sphinx, WW1 | 13 Comments