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Remember Scarborough!

After a break of a few weeks, today I recorded another Road to War episode for ABC New England, covering the period 10–16 December 1914. I focused on the German naval bombardment of Hartlepool, Scarborough and Whitby, which caused the greatest loss of civilian loss of life due to enemy action in Britain for the entire war. As it happens, this was something I researched during my recent trip to the UK, so I was able to draw on some primary source material -- in particular, the diary of Annette Matthews, who was originally from Scarborough, and not only quoted letters from her relatives who were there during the bombardment but also recorded her thoughts on visiting her home town to see the damage a few weeks later.

Image source: Remember Scarborough!

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So, I bought so many books in the UK that I had to post some of them home to myself; here are some of them. You might ask why I didn't just note down the names of all these books and order them when I got back to Australia, but such a self-evidently absurd question wouldn't merit a response.

A to Z Atlas and Guide to London and Suburbs. Sevenoaks: Geographers' A-Z Map Company, 2008 [c. 1938]. As I've said before, I do like a good facsimile edition. This one is of the first edition of the standard London A-Z street directory, including maps of Theatreland, Cinemaland, shopping centres and parking places. It's not quite Melways, but few street directories are.

Peter Adey. Air: Nature and Culture. London: Reaktion Books, 2014. A typically wide-ranging (and also lavishly illustrated) work taking something we generally take for granted and dissecting its meaning in science, art, literature and history, from life to pollution to disease to (of course) war. Lots of unexpected things here, including a big shoutout for Airminded. Thanks, Peter, and for the free copy too!

Maggie Andrews and Janis Lomas, eds. The Home Front in Britain: Images, Myths and Forgotten Experiences since 1914. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. While in the UK I kept an eye out for books on the British home front in the First World War, since that's what I was there to research, but despite the centenary there don't appear to be many yet (at least, if you care about references). This is one that I did pick up; it has a number of chapters which should be useful, particularly the first one by Andrews on ideals of domesticity (in terms of the Second World War, Gillian Mawson's on Guernsey evacuees caught my eye).

Greg Baughen. Blueprint for Victory: Britain's First World War Blitzkrieg Air Force. Fonthill: 2014. The title is a bit silly but this looks like a sober analysis based on some substantial archival research, though it's not quite as original as the blurb would have you believe. Baughen argues that the British military before 1914 was much more committed to airpower than is often assumed, and also that the success of close air support by 1918 was neglected in favour of strategic bombing and an independent air force.

Harold Balfour. Wings over Westminster. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1973. Balfour was an RFC fighter ace during the First World War, Under-Secretary of State for Air during the Second, and an airminded Conservative MP for much of the time between (he gets three mentions in my book); these are his memoirs. 'Thank God for Munich', he says (p. 111); and I say thanks to Andrew Gray for the copy!

David Clarke. Britain's X-traordinary Files. London: Bloomsbury, 2014. Drawn largely from official records (and published in collaboration with the National Archives), this takes in many surprising topics, including the Angel of Mons, Grindell Matthews' death ray, phantom helicopters and mysterious aircraft disappearances, just to name a few. I would have liked to see some scareships in there too, though!

Gerard DeGroot. Back in Blighty: The British at Home in World War I. London: Vintage Books, 2014. Another of the better home front histories. In fact DeGroot has already written one of the best around, Blighty (1996); but this update is almost an entirely new book, intended to be much more accessible to a general public and with very little in common with its predecessor. It's much more of a social history than a political or economic one.

Michael Diamond. Victorian Sensation: Or the Spectacular, the Shocking, and the Scandalous in Nineteenth-Century Britain. London: Anthem Press, 2004. Not only fun, but hopefully useful for me in terms of thinking about aerial spectacle and the public consumption of the same. It draws heavily on the press, impressively so given that it was published long before things like the British Newspaper Archive was around; but it's disappointing to find that the many newspaper citations don't include page numbers. Why treat your sources (and your readers) with such disrespect?

Alexander C. T. Geppert. Fleeting Cities: Imperial Expositions in Fin-de-Siècle Europe. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Again, this should be useful for me, as it could be argued that the great expositions and exhibitions, as nationalistic celebrations of technology and power in the guise of mass entertainment, paved the way for the Hendon pageants (and London Defended was actually part of the British Empire Exhibition, which gets a chapter here). Interestingly one of Geppert's other research interests is what he calls astroculture, something like airmindedness but for space.

Ian Hall. Alnwick in the Great War. Alnwick: Wanney Books, 2014. As with the home front in general, there seems to be a lack of regional histories of the First World War so far. This one, about Alnwick in Northumberland, is a slender pamphlet (just 40 pages) which doesn't cite many sources, but is clearly based on some great primary sources, including plans by the local authorities in Northumberland for what to when the Germans invaded and the effect of Zeppelin raids.

Hendon: The Royal Air Force Pageants, 1920 to 1939. Strike Force Entertainment, 2011. I've had my eye on this for a while, but again it's particularly useful for my aerial theatre non-project. A DVD compilation of newsreels about the Hendon pageants (which finished in 1937, not 1939, so I assume this also covers Empire Air Day). I haven't watched it yet but it seems like it is drawn from everything but British Pathé, which is fine since the latter is easily available on the web.

Robin Higham and Mark Parillo, eds. The Influence of Airpower upon History: Statesmanship, Diplomacy, and Foreign Policy since 1903. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2013. Airpower: what is it good for? Quite a bit, even if its decisiveness has been and continues to be greatly exaggerated by many. There are chapters here on the effect of airpower in the 1930s on French (Patrick Facon) and German diplomacy (Richard Muller), as well as on the bomber in Russian (David Jones) and European (John Morrow) strategic thought more generally up to the 1940s.

Cecil Lewis. Sagittarius Rising. London: Frontline Books, 2009 [1936]. Like Balfour a decorated ace, but he went down a different path after the war, helping to found what became the BBC, winning an Oscar for adapting Pygmalion, becoming a follower of the Armenian mystic Gurdjieff, and writing one of the all-time classic aviation memoirs, which I haven't read. So I'll fix that.

Michael Locicero, Ross Mahoney and Stuart Mitchell, eds. A Military Transformed? Adaptation and Innovation in the British Military, 1792-1945. Solihull: Helion & Company, 2014. The contributors to this collection are emerging British military historians, but that doesn't mean they are unfamiliar to me as I know many of them from their blogs and/or tweets, including two of the editors, Ross Mahoney and Stuart Mitchell. They've put together a very polished book; in airpower terms the key contributions are James Pugh on naval and military aviation doctrine before 1914, Ross himself on air support after Dieppe, and Richard Hammond on air-sea cooperation in the Mediterranean, but everything else looks interesting too!

Annika Mombauer, ed. The Origins of the First World War: Diplomatic and Military Documents. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2013. A big fat book of primary sources (contextualised by Mombauer) relating to the origins of the First World War, which would have been useful last trimester when I was teaching this...

Andrew Renwick. RAF Hendon: The Birthplace of Aerial Power. Manchester: Crécy Publishing, 2012. A light but nicely illustrated history of Hendon in its various incarnations, from aerial showground to wartime factory and back again, ultimately of course becoming (more or less) the RAF Museum of today.

John Stevenson and Chris Cook. The Slump: Britain in the Great Depression. 3rd edition. Harlow: Pearson Education, 2010. A topic which seems almost marginalised in our view of Britain in the 1930s now -- or maybe that's just me, since this book has gone through three editions since 1977.

Adam Tooze. The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order, 1916-1931. London: Allen Lane, 2014. By contrast this topic can hardly be said to have been marginalised, yet by all accounts this is a terrific new interpretation of the attempts to sustain world peace after the First World War, and particularly of the important role played by the United States (yes, it declined to join the League of Nations, but that's not the end of the story) and the question of whether Versailles made another war inevitable (no, which is correct).

Jerry White. Zeppelin Nights: London in the First World War. London: The Bodley Head, 2014. Finally, another substantial home front/local history of the First World War. And as the title suggests, Zeppelins feature!

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Middlesex and Buckinghamshire Advertiser, 24 October 1914, 7

Yesterday was the last research day proper of my big trip. Actually, I was supposed to be having a holiday, but instead I spent it in Aylesbury at the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies, trying to see if I could get to the bottom of the Great Missenden affair of 18 October 1914, when villagers decided that before the war Germans had hidden either a siege gun emplacement or a Zeppelin base in their midst. I didn't find anything in the nature of a revelation, but I did find some very useful bits and pieces. For example the above photograph from the Middlesex and Buckinghamshire Advertiser shows 'the mysterious enclosure at Great Missenden' itself -- though why with all those hills and trees it was thought to be a safe landing place for an airship is anyone's guess.1 Otherwise most of the local press reports simply repeated the London Star's report, apart from the Bucks Herald which instead gave a sceptical summary, which did add some commentary, and the Bucks Advertiser which rather sniffily declared that 'little importance is attached to the rumours' and so 'it is inadvisable to pursue the matter further'.2 It probably didn't help that they all went to press nearly a week after the scare had begun and then been debunked, so it's treated as a curiosity rather than a live issue. But none of these papers, nor the South Bucks Free Press, denied that the hunt happened, though, so presumably it actually did.
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  1. Middlesex and Buckinghamshire Advertiser, 24 October 1914, 7. 

  2. Bucks Herald, 24 October 1914, 2, 8; Bucks Advertiser and Aylesbury News, 24 October 1914, 8. 

Weekly Mail, 22 May 1909, 7

Chatting to Andrew Gray the other day, I realised that I'd never got around to posting about a small discovery I'd made about one of the most sensational sightings from the 1909 phantom airship scare. This is the claim by a Welsh showman named Lethbridge that he had actually seen an airship on the ground, seen its crew, seen them board the airship and take off. Here's how I summarised this incident when I postblogged 20 May 1909, quoting from the London Standard (and ultimately the Cardiff Evening Express):

a travelling Punch-and-Judy salesman by the name of Lethbridge was walking back home from Senghenydd to Cardiff over Caerphilly Mountain. At about 11pm [on 19 May 1909] he saw an airship which had landed on the mountain, and its crew. At least, that seems to be the implication of the interview he gave to the Cardiff Evening Express yesterday.

At the mountain's peak, he saw 'a long, tube-shaped affair lying on the grass on the roadside, with two men busily engaged with something near by'. The men wore 'big, heavy, fur coats, and fur caps fitting tightly over their heads'. When he got within twenty yards 'they jumped up and jabbered furiously to each other in a strange lingo -- Welsh, or something else; it was certainly not English'. They picked up something from the ground, and the object started to rise into the air. The men then 'jumped into a kind of little carriage suspended from it', with wheels. Once it had cleared some telegraph lines, it turned on two lights and headed towards Cardiff.

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While looking for other things in the National Archives today, I came across a proposed 'aerial attack on Germany's next grain crop' in a War Council meeting held at 10 Downing Street on 24 February 1915.1

It was actually two proposed attacks. Mervyn O'Gorman, a civilian engineer who was in charge of the Royal Aircraft Factory, wrote to Lieutenant-Colonel Maurice Hankey, the secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence, to suggest burning out the German harvest from the air:

Suppose we have crowds of aeroplanes, which I think we shall by August, say. Then if we drop thousands of little discs of gun-cotton, self-igniting by being painted over with Greek fire (a solution of phosphorus and sulphur in carbon bisulphide).

If these discs were planted on dry or nearly dry corn and hay I incline to the belief that very large destruction might with favourable winds be done, and they could not fully retaliate on us, since our food is seaborne, nor on Russia because of the great distances.2

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  1. The National Archives [TNA], CAB 22/1/15, 'Secretary's Notes of a Meeting of a War Council held at 10, Downing Street, February 24, 1915', 1. 

  2. Ibid., 7. 

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Today, I received the news that not one but two conference abstracts I'd submitted have been accepted. Which means I'll be going to some interesting conferences and listening to some interesting talks, but it also means that I've made a lot of extra work for myself in just one day. Well done, me!

The first of these conferences is entitled New Research in Military History: A Conference for Postgraduate and Early Career Historians, and organised by the British Commission for Military History and the Department of History, Politics and War Studies, University of Wolverhampton. It's on 22 November 2014, i.e. just over a month, meaning I will have to leave my Newcastle stronghold temporarily for the wilds of the West Midlands. The title of my talk is 'Folk strategy, Maubeuge platforms and Zeppelin bases in Britain, autumn, 1914'; the abstract is

As Catriona Pennell has shown, the fall of Antwerp in October 1914 led to a surge of rumours in Britain about covert German activity in Britain. These took very specific and unusual forms: in particular, the ideas that before the war German businesses had prepositioned concrete foundations in strategic locations in order to serve as platforms for heavy artillery, and that secret Zeppelin bases had been established in rural areas preparatory to air raids on British cities. The public belief in the truth of these rumours forced the authorities to take action, by raiding suspect business premises and searching the Highlands and the Lake District. In this paper, I will discuss the extent to which these rumours reflected prewar ideas about German invasion plans, but will also show how they were modified by news from the war, specifically claims about German plans relating the fall of Maubeuge in France and Antwerp in Belgium. I will also assess how far the rumours about Maubeuge platforms and Zeppelin bases can be understood within the framework of 'folk strategy', that is the popular, civilian understanding of military strategy. What British civilians understood about war in 1914 was very different to what their military counterparts understood about it: it was a dimly perceived and mysterious world of dark conspiracies and occult forces. How far this changed over the course of the war remains to be seen.

So, obviously this is inspired by recent blog posts; I think it's an interesting episode which doesn't appear to be well-documented anywhere, so it's worth pulling it together and incidentally seeing if I can make the idea of folk strategy stick. Hopefully it could be something I can turn into a publication at some point, especially if I can find anything useful in the National Archives.

The second conference is called The First World War: Local, Global and Imperial Perspectives, and will be by the Centre for the History of Violence at the University of Newcastle. That's Newcastle, Australia, not Newcastle, United Kingdom; but in fact it's the original Newcastle I'll be talking about. The title of my talk is 'War in a Northern Town: News and Rumour in Newcastle upon Tyne' and the abstract is:

As arguably the first total war, the First World War gave birth to the 'home front', a term affirming that civilians far from the battle front were nevertheless now inescapably part of the war. But the physical distance from local communities to their men in the real fighting made it all the more important to collapse the emotional distance between them, to believe and to show that they were in fact in the front line, sharing in the danger, that the enemy, too, realised their importance and was drawing plans to spy, to bomb or even invade. In this paper, I will examine the way in which news and rumour were used in Newcastle upon Tyne, an important shipbuilding and coal-mining centre on the north-east coast of England, to show how they were used to affirm the critical importance of the region to the British war effort. I will concentrate on the complex of stories communicated verbally or in print relating to the threats believed to be posed to Newcastle by enemy spies, Zeppelin raids and German invasion. I will end by briefly making comparisons with other types of wartime rumours, in Britain and in other countries, suggesting that this kind of 'manufacturing war' (per Michael McKernan, in the Australian context) was in fact a widespread phenomenon.

Again this is following on from my current project, but inevitably it's a bit more speculative, since I haven't done the Newcastle research yet. But by the time of the conference, 26 and 27 March 2015, I should have some idea of what's going on.

Tschaukaib, German South-West Africa, 17 December 1914

My fifth contribution to ABC New England's 'The road to war' series is now online, covering the period 8-14 October 1914. Today I looked at two major events. The first was the Maritz Rebellion in South Africa, a military mutiny by disaffected Boers who resented British influence and saw the botched invasion of German South-West Africa as their chance to win independence from the British Empire. The second was the fall of Antwerp, including Churchill's intervention and the escape of much of the Belgian army. I also made a short detour to Great Missenden. With mystery aeroplanes, aerial reconnaissance, and Zeppelin raids, it's the most Airminded episode yet. But my biggest achievement was keeping track of all those former Boer generals!

Image source: Wikimedia.

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Since I was awarded a grant by UNE to travel to the UK to undertake archival research into Zeppelin, spy and invasion fears during the First World War, it follows that at some point I should actually do that. That point is now three weeks away. I'll be arriving in London on Saturday, 1 November and will spend two weeks there, visiting (at least) the National Archives, the Imperial War Museum and the British Library. I also hope to attend The First World War: Perspectives of the Home Front conference at the RUSI on 5 November. On Saturday, 15 November, I'll be heading north to Newcastle upon Tyne for another two weeks for the regional part of my research. There I will be using various local archives, including the Durham County Record Office, Northumberland Archives, Teesside Archives, and Tyne and Wear Archives. On Sunday, 30 November I'll head back down to London, but as the research portion of my trip will be over by then, I'm thinking I will fly out to Berlin for a few days (partly because I've never been to Germany, partly because I will be teaching Weimar and Nazi history next year), then back to London before flying back home on Monday, 8 December.

If you're around any of those places at those times, and would like to meet up, let me know!

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Last Friday, 3 October 2014, I gave the Humanities Research Seminar at the University of New England on the topic of 'Staging the aerial theatre: Britishness and airmindedness in the 20th century' (kindly introduced by Nathan Wise), in which I expanded upon my ideas for a research project involving aviation spectacle. You can watch the seminar itself above; the abstract is below.

The place of the sea and the navy in the construction of British national identity has recently come under scrutiny from historians, for example in the way that spectacular fleet reviews and ship launchings were orchestrated in a kind of naval theatre in order to display national strength, assure imperial stability, and enact international rivalry. With the coming of flight in the early 20th century, however, the air and the air force became increasingly more important to both the defence of the nation and to its self-identity: for example, think of the Battle of Britain and the Spitfire, in popular memory Britain's salvation and the agent of its salvation, respectively. But the process began long before 1940, in large part through an aerial theatre: aerial displays, aerial reviews and aerial races. This kind of airmindedness, or the enthusiasm for aviation, advertised and celebrated British technological and destructive capabilities, though how it was interpreted by its audience is another matter. In this seminar I will outline a research programme to investigate how airmindedness was conveyed by aerial theatre, and how this worked to construct Britishness in the 20th century. My primary case study will be the Royal Air Force Pageant, held annually between 1920 and 1937 at Hendon in north London, in which British airpower was demonstrated in highly choreographed, large-scale aerobatic routines and battle scenarios for the enjoyment of huge crowds. I will also look at other examples of British aerial theatre, such as Empire Air Day, the Aerial Derby, and Operation Millennium, as well briefly touch on some international comparisons. Aerial theatre helped define what it meant to be British in the 20th century; but in so doing it also revealed tensions over alternative identities, as well as anxieties about whether Great Britain could in fact continue to be great in the aerial age.

The presentation itself was a bit rough. Normally I would speak off the cuff, and in the past I've read out talks verbatim, but this time, because of the length of the seminar and because I wanted to keep the slides themselves low in information density, I used notes, which of course just tripped up my tongue and made me sound even more inarticulate than usual. Partly as a consequence, I don't think I really gave a good explanation of why I think the aerial theatre is so interesting, which was really the whole idea of the thing. If I gave the same talk again (which almost never happens), I'd do it a bit differently. But I got some really good questions at the end and had fun choosing photographs and newsreels to talk to. Also, it was possibly the first time I've used the phrase 'pure sex' in a public forum. So it wasn't all bad.

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So, in the previous post in this series, I explained why (at least to a proximate cause) in 1914 people around Britain started worrying that German spies had gone around the country building concrete platforms for heavy artillery, as supposedly had been done before the war near Maubeuge and Antwerp. But what I didn't do was explain the concurrent (and in the case of Great Missenden, overlapping) belief that German spies had also gone around building Zeppelin bases, which after all is where I started. This seems especially puzzling since, thanks to their long range, Zeppelins certainly didn't need any such bases to launch air raids on London or elsewhere in Britain; this was well-known and was the basis for the phantom airship panic the year before the war.

What I think was happening here is essentially the same as happened with the Maubeuge platforms: people were reacting to the rapidly developing war situation, particularly the German advance to the Channel coast: Antwerp fell on 10 October 1914, Ostend on 15 October. The next major ports to the west, Dunkirk and Calais, were to remain in Allied hands for the rest of the war, but this couldn't have been known at the time. Already in late August, the Channel ports were being identified as potential forward bases for Zeppelins: 'While [the Royal Marines] hold Ostend there need be no fear of the town being made a Zeppelin base as was suggested a day or two since'.1 The Western Daily Press thought that

it is plainly the object of the enemy to establish themselves on the coast, and to find there more than one point d'appui for delivering attacks on England by means of aeroplanes and Zeppelins. It has been obvious that, during the past few weeks, the Germans have determined to make the fullest use of their aerial flotilla, quite irrespective of the regulations laid down in the second Hague Convention. The performance of a Zeppelin over Antwerp the other day stands in proof of this conviction.2

By 16 September it was being reported as rumoured in Berlin that 'Germany is preparing to invade England with a Zeppelin armada [...] the stories all agree that the base from which they shall start is Calais. As soon as the French army is disposed of, according to the German plan, a strong force will capture Calais'.3 A week later, there was more confidence, with the Aberdeen Daily Journal suggesting that 'If the Germans had succeeded in establishing a Zeppelin base at Dunkirk or Calais, there is no doubt the danger to London would have been real from a panic point of view'.4 The RNAS raid on the Zeppelin sheds at Düsseldorf on 22 September may have allayed fears, although whether it had done any significant damage was not clear, and the very fact of the raid and its daring nature itself proved that the government was taking the Zeppelin threat seriously. In fact it was assumed to be a reprisal for the bombing of Antwerp.5
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  1. Birmingham Gazette, 28 August 1914, 4

  2. Western Daily Press (Bristol), 29 August 1914, 4

  3. Yorkshire Evening Post (Leeds), 16 September 1914, 2

  4. Aberdeen Daily Journal, 22 September 1914, 4

  5. E.g. Yorkshire Telegraph and Star (Sheffield), 24 September 1914, 2