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As of the previous post, 1,000,695 is the number of words I've written on Airminded (including 1518 posts and 29 pages, but excluding 2342 comments) since the first post back in July 2005. It sounds like a lot, but it's only 6150 words per month. Okay, that still sounds like a lot!

On to the next million...

See also: July 2008 (250,664), July 2010 (395,000); July 2015 (873,000).

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Big Ben

As part of a discussion about the worldwide syncronisation of time, Yuval Noah Harari writes:

During World War Two, BBC News was broadcast to Nazi-occupied Europe. Each news programme opened with a live broadcast of Big Ben tolling the hour -- the magical sound of freedom. Ingenious German physicists found a way to determine the weather conditions in London based on tiny differences in the tone of the broadcast ding-dongs. This information offered invaluable help to the Luftwaffe. When the British Secret Service discovered this, they replaced the live broadcast with a set recording of the famous clock. 1

I'd never heard this story before. Harari doesn't provide any sources. Is it true?
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  1. Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Harper, 2015), 354.

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Pearson's, April 1901, 475

It is sometimes 1 claimed that ballooning was an event at the 1900 Paris Olympics. I don't think it can have been. But it's genuinely a bit murky, because this was only the second modern Olympics and the planning process evidently was not as formalised as it later became. The Olympics were held that year as a minor part of the Exposition Universelle running from April to November 1900, and a number of Exposition events were only retrospectively judged to have been Olympic events too (which is how cricket gets to be an Olympic sport).
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  1. Most notably, at a trivia event at the otherwise brilliant Aviation Cultures Mk IV conference, and no, I'm definitely not bitter for being judged wrong, why would you even think that.

George D. Warren, 18 November 1918

NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 416 is a report from Lieutenant Commander George D. Warren RANR, commanding officer, HMAS Coogee, a civilian coastal steamship requistioned by the Navy for use as a minesweeper. Warren is reporting on the results of his investigation of an aeroplane seen from a naval lookout on the northern end of King Island, a large island in Bass Strait, between Victoria and Tasmania. This was seen back on 1 November, first one (NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 426):

Aeroplane sighted 3 50pm to day Victorian time steering south easterly direction skying [sic] very low distance away unc[e]rtain about 7 miles fairly strong wind blowing.

A second report gives a different time (NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 424):

aeroplane sighted 4.50 p.m. north east flying south east lost in clouds 4.58 p.m.

In fact this was originally interpreted as a second aeroplane, but the near-identical descriptions combined with the difference of an hour exactly suggests that this confusion resulted from the new institution of daylight savings time, in force on this date in Tasmana, to which King Island belongs, but not in Victoria, for some reason used as the time reference in the first report.
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The lost Gotha of New Farm Park is lost in two senses. Firstly, because I'm fairly sure that it no longer exists. Secondly, because I'm quite sure that it never existed.

Chris O'Regan pointed out on Twitter that 'there used to be a captured German plane in New Farm Park' in Brisbane. This was easy to confirm in Trove; it was offered to Brisbane as a war trophy in 1921:

The Brisbane City Council yesterday agreed to accept a captured German aeroplane offered by the Australian War Museum. Authority was given for the erection of a shelter at a cost of £50, in New Farm Park, on a site to be fixed by the chairman of the Parks Committee and the superintendent of parks. 1

But the shelter evidently didn't offer much protection from the elements, because by March 1930 the aeroplane was in poor condition and 'badly in need of reconditioning':

The chairman (Alderman E. Lanham) stated that no financial provision had been made for the work, and while there was some sentiment attached to the capture of the machine it was not a proposal upon which the council was prepared to spend a big sum at present. The committee had agreed to defer the question of repairs until an inspection had been made by the parks superintendent (Mr. H. Moore) and himself. 2

The aeroplane was offered to the Queensland Museum -- home to another, unique, war trophy, A7V Mephisto -- which unfortunately had 'no accomodation' for the machine. 3 Dismantling began the following January, at which point the Queensland branch of the Australian Flying Corps Association offered to maintain it. The council agreed, but on condition that it was moved elsewhere. 4 In June, it was announced that the association had 'offered to recondition the machine and place it in a conspicuous position on the Archerfield Aerodrome', then Brisbane's major (and very new) airport. 5 In May 1932 it was said to be 'at present being reconditioned by the [Queensland] Aero Club' -- so not the Australian Flying Corps Association -- 'preparatory to its being mounted at Archerfield aerodrome'. 6 I can't find any trace of the aeroplane after that. I suspect it was never placed into any 'conspicuous position' but instead the reconditioning stretched out until it was eventually scrapped, perhaps in 1939 when the RAAF moved in.
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  1. Telegraph (Brisbane), 21 December 1921, 8.
  2. Brisbane Courier, 26 March 1930, 14.
  3. Brisbane Courier, 1 October 1930, 14.
  4. Telegraph (Brisbane), 21 January 1931, 8.
  5. Telegraph (Brisbane), 6 June 1931, 9.
  6. Brisbane Courier, 26 May 1932, 14.

My article, 'The militarisation of aerial theatre: air displays and airmindedness in Britain and Australia between the World Wars', is available on Contempory British History's website. It seems like only yesterday that I uploaded the self-archived version -- in fact it was only 5 weeks ago! While the formal and final version of the article won't be available until 2020, thanks to the modern marvel of the internet it's as good as published; the only difference is that this version lacks the volume information and page numbers (referring to a print edition which fewer and fewer people will ever read). For reference, here's the abstract again:

Aerial theatre, the use of aviation spectacle to project images of future warfare, national power and technological prowess, was a key method for creating an airminded public in the early 20th century. The most significant and influential form of aerial theatre in interwar Britain was the Royal Air Force (RAF) Display at Hendon, in which military aircraft put on impressive flying performances before large crowds, including an elaborate set-piece acting out a battle scenario with an imaginary enemy. Hendon was emulated by other air displays in Britain and in Australia, even civilian ones. Indeed, the inability of the much smaller Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to regularly project spectacle on the scale of Hendon across a much larger nation created a gap which civilian aviation organisations then tried to fill. Hendon thus helped to propagate a militarised civilian aerial theatre, and hence airmindedness, in both Britain and Australia.

I presented the initial version of this research at a symposium at Flinders University in honour of Eric Richards, the eminent historian of migration. Sadly, he passed away last week. I only met him briefly, but I know from the responses of his former colleagues and students that he will be missed. Vale.

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The first real air raid on Australia was against Darwin on 19 February 1942. I don't know when the first fake air raid on Australia was, but there was one against Melbourne on 14 October 1929:

An aerial attack was made on Melbourne to-day by a group of seagull [sic] machines, which had been sent up from the aircraft carrier, Albatross. Overcoming opposition from a fleet of land 'planes, the raiders dropped several bombs, scoring vital hits, according to the attackers. The attack was part of air force exercises. The Albatross was outside the Heads, when the Seagull machines were depatched [sic], and three of these machines managed to reach the city, in spite of the efforts of 'planes from Point Cook aerodrome. 1

A more detailed (but harder to read) account reveals that that Albatross, representing a 'hostile seaplane carrier' outside Port Phillip Heads, launched a force of six Supermarine Seagulls and one Wackett Widgeon, which was sighted by a defending Supermarine Southampton off Brighton. The attackers were intercepted by aircraft from Point Cook, but

three broke through and flew over Melbourne from the direction of Port Melbourne, circling over Victoria Barracks and turning back to sea from a point presumably above Princes Bridge. 2

A later newspaper report suggested that 'Under war conditions, the city would have suffered many casualties'. 3 The official result of the exercise does not seem to have been published in the press, but it seems like it might have been fudged in favour of the defenders:

Bringing 1929 to a close, Albatross took part in a combined RAN-RAAF exercise in Port Phillip Bay in October. The point of this exercise was to test the carrier in making an air raid, along with assessing the efficiency of RAAF cooperation with Navy in repelling a seaborne air attack. According to reports on the exercise, the defence against the carrier attack was only successful because scouting Southamptons set off from Point Cook, without orders, some time before warning was actually received of approaching enemy aircraft. In fact, as noted by the CO of No. 1 FTS, aerial patrols had failed to sight the approaching naval force. Strikes had then been mounted against these ships off Frankston, involving Moths (representing single-seat fighters) and Wapitis. One RAAF pilot whose part in the scheme entailed simply flying over the Melbourne dock area probably summed up the feelings of many of those involved when he noted in his log-book that the exercise was 'A farce—nothing done or to see'. 4.

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  1. Townsville Daily Bulletin, 16 October 1929, 4.
  2. Herald (Melbourne), 14 October 1929, 1.
  3. The Call (Perth), 25 October 1929, 1.
  4. C. D. Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother: the Royal Australian Air Force 1921-39 (North Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1991), 218.

My article, 'The militarisation of aerial theatre: air displays and airmindedness in Britain and Australia between the World Wars', has just been accepted for publication in Contempory British History. It will be part of a special issue edited by Andrekos Varnava and Michael J. K. Walsh on 'The production of popular culture and its relationship to conflict in Britain and its Empire since the Great War', which in turn came out of the First Eric Richards Symposium in British and Australasian History, which I attended at Flinders University in early 2017. Under CBH's open access policies I can share the accepted version of the article upon publication, but that won't be until 2020. So, as I can also share the version I originally submitted, I'm self-archiving that here, errors of spelling, evidence and logic and all! Here's the abstract:

Aerial theatre, the use of aviation spectacle to project images of future warfare, national power and technological prowess, was a key method for creating an airminded public in the early 20th century. The most significant and influential form of aerial theatre in interwar Britain was the Royal Air Force (RAF) Display at Hendon, in which military aircraft put on impressive flying performances before large crowds, including an elaborate set-piece acting out a battle scenario with an imaginary enemy. Hendon was emulated by other air displays in Britain and in Australia, even civilian ones. Indeed, the inability of the much smaller Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to regularly project spectacle on the scale of Hendon across a much larger nation created a gap which civilian aviation organisations then tried to fill. Hendon thus helped to propagate a militarised civilian aerial theatre, and hence airmindedness, in both Britain and Australia.

This is my first publication from my long-term project on aerial theatre, which I've been kicking around in presentations and on this blog for a few years now. But it won't be the last!

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Graphic, 25 May 1918, 631

Manfred von Richthofen is undoubtedly the most famous aviator of the First World War, possibly of all time. But he's not famous by name, so much as by nickname: he is the Red Baron, a reference to his red aircraft and his aristocratic birth. It instantly evokes images of knights of the sky, grappling together in mid-air until one is felled, tumbling to the ground far below. As an example, here's an account from the British press of 'The end of the Red Baron' (with Joseph Simpson's illustration, above):

Cavalry Captain Baron von Richthofen was shot down in aerial combat on the day when the German papers announced his 79th and 80th victories. Boyd Cable writes: 'The Red Baron, with his famous "circus," discovered two of our artillery observing machines, and with a few followers attacked, the greater part of the "circus" drawing off to allow the Baron to go in and down the two. They put up a fight, and, while the Baron manoeuvred for position, a number of our lighting scout machines appeared and attacked the "circus." The Baron joined the mêlée, which, scattering into groups, developed into what our men call "a dog fight." In the course of this the Baron dropped on the tail of a fighting scout, which dived, with the Baron in close pursuit. Another of our scouts seeing this dived after the German, opening fire on him. All three machines came near enough to the ground to be engaged by infantry machine-gun fire, and the Baron was seen to swerve, continue his dive headlong and crash in our lines. His body and the famous blood-red Fokker triplane were afterwards brought in by the infantry, and the Baron was buried with full military honours. He was hit by one bullet, and the position of the wound showed clearly that he had been killed by the pilot who dived down after him.' 1

The odd thing is this is the only use of the phrase 'red baron' in the British Newspaper Archive in reference to Richthofen for the entire war -- and even then, it's after his death. Nor have I been able to find it in the other major English-language newspaper archives: Gale NewsVault, ukpressonline, Welsh Newspapers Online, Trove, PapersPast, or Chronicling America. (I can in fact find quite a few mentions of 'red baron' in BNA during the war, but not as anything to do with 'the' Red Baron, or even a person: it was the name of a prize winner at the 1912 Royal Ulster Agricultural Society show, described in 1916 as 'Red Baron, the stud bull in the herd of the Hon. Frederick Wrench, Killacoona, Ballybrack, that has proved such a veritable gold mine for him'. 2) Nor does 'red baron' appear in Flight magazine for the war, nor in the 1918 English translation of Richthofen's autobiography Der Rote Kampfflieger, tellingly translated as 'The Red Battle Flyer'.

So if Richthofen was called the Red Baron during the war, as I had assumed and as seems widely to be believed, this practice does not seem to have made its way into the press and so can't have been very widespread. Perhaps it was a nickname bestowed upon him by Allied airmen, though even there something less polite seems more probable. But in any case, Wikipedia's claim that

Richthofen painted his aircraft red, and this combined with his title led to him being called 'The Red Baron', both inside and outside Germany.

needs to be qualified, a lot.
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  1. Graphic, 25 May 1918, 631.
  2. Aberdeen Press and Journal, 4 September 1916, 7.

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Armidale

It's been nearly four weeks since I farewelled my friends and left Armidale, which somehow seems both very recent and very distant. Before I left, I'd planned to post some of my favourite photos of the town, but in the press of events didn't manage to. And after, I found it difficult to decide which in fact were my favourites! But here are some that I like.
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