Before we had Google Earth and other satellite images to spy on our neighbors, what did a country do during a war to get information about the enemy’s plans? It’s something I hadn’t thought of, but Bird’s Eye View, by first-time author Elinor Florence, explains aerial photographic interpretation during WWII very simply, through the eyes of a young Canadian woman who joins the British RAF to do her part during the war.
Rose has grown up on a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada. While she loves her family and town, she longs to see the world, as do many people raised in small towns. When Canada enters WWII, she finds a way: join the British Royal Air Force. Canada won’t accept women in their Air Force, but if she pays her own way to Britain she can join up and help the war effort, feeding her patriotic need to be involved. During the Atlantic crossing, Rose gets her first taste of the danger into which she is heading, as the ship on which she is traveling begins lurching back and forth in order to evade the enemy. “I had a funny feeling in the soles of my feet as I imagined a German submarine below the ship, aiming a torpedo at our massive hull. It was the first time that I. Rose Marie Jolliffe, was in personal danger from the enemy. It would take some getting used to.”
Arriving in Britain, Rose’s abilities have her assigned to Medmenham Air Force Base as an aerial photography interpreter. Having taken over the enormous Danesfield House estate, the RAF had quick, agile airplanes with their best pilots flying across the English Channel to photograph French cities and countryside.
The film was rushed back to base, developed and given to the interpreters, who pored over the photos for hours, comparing changes since previous photos, looking for possible armories, convoys, or other signs of militarization. In the months leading up to D-Day they developed over fifty thousand photographs a day, one million in May alone!
Although I am a lover of historical fiction, WWII has not been one of my big time periods. I learned so much from this book, and it was presented in an easy to follow manner, without too many technical details, but enough that I understood. It wasn’t just about the photographic interpreters, either. Medmenham was a huge air force base with bombers and supply planes taking off all the time. The interpreters get to know some of the pilots and are just as affected by the battle casualties as the airmen.
Rose finds the work exhilarating, and she is very good at it. The interpreters also analyze photos during and after battles, like the bombing of Hamburg. “I lined up the first pair of photographs under my stereoscope and bent my head. As they came into focus, I felt my body lift and soar above a picture of destruction unlike anything I had every seen. Although these photographs had been taken long before dawn, the glare from the inferno below created an effect of daylight.”
Danger, romance, history and adventure are all wrapped up in a well-written story about a sympathetic character who experiences extreme personal growth. If you enjoy The Bletchley Circle, Island at War, or The Imitation Game, you will love Bird’s Eye View. Many thanks to Tara from Book Babe for recommending this book to me and to Elinor for sending me a copy in exchange for my honest review.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – From Elinor’s web site.
Career journalist Elinor Florence grew up on a Saskatchewan grain farm, a former World War Two training airfield near North Battleford. She earned her English degree at the University of Saskatchewan, and studied journalism at Carleton University. She launched her career at her hometown newspaper, followed by the Western Producer in Saskatoon, the Red Deer Advocate, the Winnipeg Sun and the Vancouver Province. Weary of city life, Elinor and her husband moved their young family to the mountain resort town of Invermere, British Columbia. For the next eight years, she was a regular writer for Reader’s Digest. She returned to her newspaper roots when she purchased a fledgling local newspaper, the Columbia Valley Pioneer, and turned it into an award-winning community staple. Elinor sold the newspaper in 2010 to pursue her lifelong goal of writing fiction. Her first historical novel Bird’s Eye View was published by Dundurn Press of Toronto in October 2014. Married with three grown daughters, Elinor loves village life, historical research, and old houses.