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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Boeing E75, VH-JLW

This a Boeing (Stearman) Model 75, built in 1941 for use as a primary trainer for the US Army Air Forces. After a postwar career in the US as a cropduster, it was registered in Australia as VH-JLW and is now operated by Fleet Adventures, based at Armidale Regional Airport. And last Friday, as a surprise, and very touching, farewell present from my friends (aided and abetted by my partner), I flew in it!
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In two weeks from today I'll be leaving Armidale for good, and heading back to Melbourne, my hometown. It's mostly for excellent personal reasons, but in part it's also because of the usual early-career academic story of precarious employment. My colleagues at the University of New England have supported me as much they could, but work is drying up and it's clear that any kind of secure position is, at best, a long way off. In addition, with a faculty restructure and as a casual, access to research support is increasingly limited (unfortunately, I had to give up my KCL fellowship). So, after 5 years it's time to leave.

Not that there's a job waiting for me down south, but there are five or six times as many universities in Melbourne as there are in Armidale, so that must help my chances! In the short term I'll have to readjust to life as an independent historian again. I will continue to research and to write, including as part of the Heritage of the Air project, and attend conferences when I can (starting with the International Society for First World War Studies conference in Melbourne, as it happens). Airminded will likely see more activity than it has in the past few years, too.

I will miss my friends here in Armidale. But there's a lot to look forward to in Melbourne!

P. J. Connolly, 3 June 1918

NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 836 is a report by Senior Constable P. J. Connolly regarding 'an aeroplane flying in a Westerly direction' seen at 9pm the previous evening at Charlton, in the Mallee region of Victoria, by William Bannon and no less than 'eight other farmers', who all saw the machine together:

One bright white light could be seen, and the [?] buzzing sound heard.

One of the witnesses, a returned soldier named Kenyon, claims 'that he 'is well used to aircraft, & in his opinion it was about twenty miles away'. Connolly has interviewed all the farmers, and 'they bear out Bannon's statement'. He has also 'wired Secretary of Navy Dept'.
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T. J. Wilson, 31 May 1918

NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 529 is a statement by Captain T. J. Wilson, master of the SS Koolonga, a merchant vessel plying the Newcastle-Port Pirie route. At 8.15pm on 26 May 1918, Koolonga was off Cape Willoughby, Kangaroo Island, South Australia; Wilson was on the bridge when, 'Casually looking aloft, he saw a dark square object, which he took to be an aeroplane'.

This is my single favourite mystery aeroplane sighting of the whole 1918 panic, mainly because of all the sailors swearing like sailors, which Wilson freely relayed in his statement, and Captain Fearnley, Senior Naval Officer Newcastle, just as freely censored in his report:

  • Nicolson, 3rd Officer: 'By C[hrist]! there's an aeroplane'
  • AB McKinnon: 'There's a b[lood]y Aeroplane!'
  • Elms, Chief Officer: 'God spare my days, that's a b[lood]y Aeroplane!'
  • Sullivan, 2nd Officer: 'That's an Aeroplane' (okay, that one's less colourful, but he was called up from his cabin to the bridge in his pyjamas, so perhaps he wasn't quite awake yet)

I was so amused by Elms's exclamation in particular that not only did I quote it in my article as an example of an aeroplane sighting, I used it as a section heading too. But more seriously, especially when taken together like this, like the conversation of the four boys at Ouyen these excited utterances speak to the immediate responses of witnesses: they were startled, amazed, stupefied by what they were seeing, but also very sure about what they were seeing. According to Wilson, he'd just seen what 'he took to be an aeroplane' when Nicolson said 'there's an aeroplane'; he avoided asking Elms and Sullivan leading questions when pointing out the object to them, but they both independently identified it as an aeroplane. Still, we don't know the context for the sighting; perhaps they'd just been discussing mystery aeroplanes at the captain's table and guessed what everyone else was thinking. On the face of it, though, it's an impressive report: five experienced seamen who presumably were familiar with the usual natural phenomena seen at sea, all instantly agreeing that this was not natural.
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C. Joyes, 22 May 1918

NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 134 is a report by Constable C. Joyes, Victoria Police, about an 'Aeroplane seen in the vicinity of Dromana', a seaside resort town about 70km from Melbourne.

Doctor J. G. Weld of Dromana reported to me today that he saw an Aeroplane about 530 am yesterday morning (21st [May 1918]) flying between Port Phillip Bay and Western Port Bay, and finally flew in the direction of the Naval Base. The Dr was visiting a patient when he saw the lights he called his wife and two male friends, and they also saw the lights, sometimes the lights would disappear as if behind a cloud. The Dr. states he did not actually see the machine nor did he hear any noise.

There's not a lot to say about this one. In my article I use it as an unusual example of someone of a relatively high social status reporting a mystery aeroplane; the typical witnesses were working or lower middle class. Hard to know what they actually saw; perhaps Canopus which was very low on the SSE horizon at the time, but there's not enough information to make a judgement -- and anyway, the report does say lights, plural. Oddly, the report is addressed directly to 'the Minister for Navy', perhaps due to an internal police directive, though the Minister would have been less than interested by this stage. And, in yet another addition for the errata file, I originally read the constable's name as 'Joyce' but looking more closely it's clearly 'Joyes'.