I hold the view that animals, the ancient peoples and the aborigines navigate perfectly well without compasses. This we often call a sense of direction. People with a sense of direction very seldom get lost even on dark nights even in unfamiliar territory. Not everyone has a sense of direction but those who do rely on it because it works for them.
I recently discussed this ability to have a sense of direction with a senior army officer and he agreed that some soldiers had a developed sense and others not. But he said a good commander would spend time assessing who had this skill and then try to put one person with a sense of direction into each group. Going the right way on the battle field can be the difference between life and death.
It is really important to understand that navigation is difficult and all good navigators use every clue that they can get (such as the direction of the sun, the prevailing wind and as many landmarks as possible to help them). The Sense of Direction is a vague sense that tells you the direction to set out on and that you are going in the right direction, but you are always looking for navigational clues to support your notion of direction. The sense of relief when you see you first landmark is palpable.
Capt. Marcel who served as a Commando in Malaya during the troubles said:
“The Commandos used Iban trackers to help them, they came from the lowland,
coastal area of Sarawak, which was a British colony at the time.
The Ibans were jungle people and lived in long houses in the jungle. A few
were recruited during the Malay Emergency (when we had to deal with an
attempted coup by communists mainly Chinese), whom we had armed and trained
during the war to fight against the Japanese.
We used the Ibans as trackers and guides, and as instructors in jungle
skills, after all they lived in the jungle. They were not armed.
Hiram Potts led a patrol from 40 Commando into the Malaysian jungle, looking
for ‘bandits’ as we called them.
He decided to follow a river which led him in the right direction (our maps
were pretty useless).
Hiram and his patrol, with their Iban tracker, followed the river for a
time. The Iban went to Hiram at some point and indicated that they should
leave the river and climb over a hill. Hiram could see no point in this as
he wanted to stick with the river, so he pushed on.
Hours later, Hiram and his tired men came across the Iban, relaxed and
fresh. He, somehow knew that the river was going round a hill and that the
quicker and easiest route was over the hill. The Iban did not know the area,
but his jungle savvy told him that over the hill was the easiest route, not
How did he know? You tell me!”