Observation is more than seeing, however accurately; it is “the habit of noting and remembering small signs or details, both at a distance and near at hand.” (1)
Training in observation can take various forms. One is to ask the men to divide the in front of them into six sections: foreground and background on the left, on the right, and in the centre. “The instructor then ascertains the number, nature, and distance, of the objects each man has noted in these divisions. Even if only one object is noted in each, it makes six objects noticed, and this is more than the untrained mind usually identifies.” (2)
Campbell, in his Rapid Training, suggests a variant on this exercise:
If you have time beforehand, take out half a dozen men and conceal them in dead ground, behind trees, bushes, etc. Take the squad and ask them how many men they can see. Then make your hidden people appear one by one by means of a whistle. It is astonishing how close men may be hidden and not be perceived. This opportunity may be seized of explaining much as to uses of cover, dead ground, etc. (3)
Dead ground is part of the terrain obscured from a viewer because of the topography, such as behind a slope or in a dip.
Campbell also suggests that officers turn to Rudyard Kipling’s Kim for suggestions in how to practice observation.(4) Kim’s Game, as the Boy Scouts call it, was part of Kim’s spy training – we play it at parties, looking briefly at a tray of miscellaneous objects and trying to list more of them than any other player can remember.
Observational practice can be impromptu, in the course of a march or other activity:
After going a certain distance each man may be questioned upon, or required to jot down what he has observed of any military importance, e.g., rivers, bridges, cross roads, sign posts, villages, provision shops, smithies, post and telegraph offices, haystacks, &c.(5)
The writer notes, “These occasions also afford the instructor an opportunity of pointing out such objects of interest as the varieties of trees and vegetation, and the habits of animals.” (5)
(1) Field Artillery Training. HMSO. 1914.383
(2) Field Artillery Training. 384
(3) Campbell, M.V. Rapid Training of Recruits: A Practical Scheme. New York, 1917. 77-78.
(4) Campbell. 77.
(5) Field Artillery Training. 385.
The image is a still from the 1950 Hollywood film of Kim, starring Erroll Flynn; the movie trailer describes it as “a monumental motion picture [that] brings you the magic fascination of the bizarre East.”
Copyright 2016. See “More about this project.”