Starting tomorrow, I will be be post-blogging the 1913 British phantom airship scare as it appeared in the press, one hundred years earlier to the day. This scare was much longer than the 1909 one: that lasted for less than three weeks, but the 1913 took over three months to run its course. (Longer, if the Sheerness Incident, which took place in October 1912 but wasn't publicised until November, is taken as its beginning.) It was only sporadic at times, especially at the start, but still I'm unlikely to be blogging about much else until April sometime. In an effort to preserve my sanity, I'll try to adhere to a minimalist form of post-blogging, i.e. focusing very narrowly on the topic at hand and not, as has been the recent trend, getting distracted by trying to explain the context or noting interesting but not very related stories that I come across. But I suspect that won't last. In any case, it will all come in very handy when I come to prepare my Wellington talk in July.
Historians have taken little notice of the 1913 phantom airship scare, whereas it's reasonably common to come across references to the smaller and, I would argue, less consequential 1909 one.1 That's probably because the main historian to take an interest in scareships, Alfred Gollin, devoted only a few pages to 1913 whereas he spent a whole chapter talking about 1909.2 Still, George Dangerfield did discuss the 1913 sightings in The Strange Death of Liberal England, though perhaps his title is now better known than his book.3 Also noteworthy is that the 1913 produced the only substantial contemporary analysis of the whole Scareship Age to be published, a chapter in a book written by the editor of the Economist, Francis Hirst.4 Outside the mainstream historical literature I can recommend the relevant chapters in Robert Bartholomew and George Howard's UFOs & Alien Contact (sceptical, despite the title) and Nigel Watson's The Scareship Mystery.5 Along with David Clarke and Granville Oldroyd, Watson also compiled from local and national press reports a 500-page catalogue of scareship sightings, The 1912-1913 British Phantom Airship Scare — a massive undertaking in the pre-Internet age, and in fact one that still couldn't be replicated without spending weeks in the fabled British Library Newspapers at Colindale.6 I'll be working largely independently of their gargantuan effort, as I want to see the primary sources for myself, but I will use it to identify incidents and find sources. Apart from the usual online sources, I will also be using the London newspapers the Daily Mail, the Standard, the Globe and Traveller, the Spectator (all Conservative), the Economist (Liberal) and the Daily Herald (Labour), and two local newspapers, the Norfolk News, Eastern Counties Journal, and Norwich, Yarmouth, and Lynn Commercial Gazette and the Southampton Times and Hampshire Express. And maybe some other things.
Let the scare begin!
- E.g. A. J. A. Morris, The Scaremongers: The Advocacy of War and Rearmament, 1896-1914 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984), 159.
- Alfred Gollin, The Impact of Air Power on the British People and their Government, 1909-14 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989), 238-40; cf. ibid., 49-63.
- George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England (London: Serif, 1997 ), 106-9.
- F. W. Hirst, The Six Panics and Other Essays (London: Methuen, 1913), 103-18. Actually, long ago I came across a reference to a whole book published on the phantom airship scares at around the same time — but published in French! I'd be grateful if anyone knows what it is, because I've never been able to find it again.
- Robert E. Bartholomew and George S. Howard, UFOs & Alien Contact: Two Centuries of Mystery (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1998), 125-37; Nigel Watson, The Scareship Mystery: A Survey of Worldwide Phantom Airship Scares (1909-1918) (Corby: Domra, 2000), 61-74.
- Nigel Watson, Granville Oldroyd and David Clarke, The 1912-1913 British Phantom Airship Scare (South Humberside: self published, 1987).
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