Books

Garry Campion. The Battle of Britain, 1945-1965: The Air Ministry and the Few. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. The Battle as propaganda during the war (most of the book) and memory afterwards. Includes such topics as the 'battle of the barges' and Churchill's 'The Few' speech (Campion still thinks The Few referred to Fighter Command but he does refer to the discussions on this blog).

Isabel V. Hull. A Scrap of Paper: Breaking and Making International Law during the Great War. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2014. Given the prominent claims and counterclaims at the time, surprisingly few books have been written on the use and abuse of international law in the First World War. I'm especially interested in how Hull treats the topic of aerial bombardment, of course, but also in what she has to say about reprisals for same.

Paul Virilio. War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception. London and New York: Verso, 1989. Part of my continuing, if intermittent, attempt to engage with theory. This is little over a hundred pages long and has lots of pictures -- how difficult can it be?

Simon Bradley. The Railways: Nation, Network and People. London: Profile Books, 2015. A social history of the British railway. Trains ain't planes, but I've heard a lot of good things about this book.

Keith Lovegrove. Airline: Style at 30,000 Feet. London: Laurence King, 2013. A fun little book about 20th century airline design, from advertising to cutlery; but it's the cabin crew uniforms from the 1960s and 1970s that catch the eye. Terrifying.

Paul K. Saint-Amour. Tense Future: Modernism, Total War, Encyclopedic Form. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. One of those books that does that worthwhile thing of looking at familiar works in unfamiliar ways. For most readers that will probably mean Virginia Woolf or James Joyce, but in my case it's more the airpower prophets I studied for my PhD/book. I'm not persuaded by the reading of L. E. O. Charlton's books about the knock-out blow in the 1930s as being a betrayal of the humanitarian conscience he displayed over civilian casualties of air control in the 1920s; for me, they are cut from the same cloth. But I look forward to reading Saint-Amour's analysis of Charlton anyway, and of other unexpected gems such as Getrude Bell's description of a Hendon-style mock combat put on by the RAF in Iraq in 1924!

Daniel Todman. Britain's War: Into Battle, 1937-1941. Allen Lane, 2016. Just from reading Dan's (lamented) blog, Trench Fever, as well as his occasional comments here at Airminded over the years, I know that this is also going to be an original version of a supposedly familiar story. Even the periodisation is intriguing, and the second volume will complete the story up to Indian independence in 1947. As this one is more than 800 pages, I'd better get cracking...

Statistically, this was probably bound to happen eventually...

Jeremy Black. Air Power: A Global History. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016. The indefatigable Jeremy Black has produced a small but useful library of short, accessible surveys of sometimes neglected areas of military history. On my own shelves I already have Avoiding Armageddon (2012) on the interwar period, and The Cold War (2015), and now they are joined by this volume on a topic even closer to my heart. All the things you'd expect in such a survey are pretty much here, and he does attempt to look at airpower around the world. Inevitably it's still mostly a Western view. Still, there are a couple of pages on the Iran-Iraq war, for example, a bit over a page on China in the 1930s; but only a couple of sentences on the Chaco War (but what are ya gonna do).

Jeremy Black. Other Pasts, Different Presents, Alternative Futures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015. The indefatigable Jeremy Black has also produced a small but useful library of short, accessible historiographical works. I've got Rethinking Military History (2004) and I did have the previous edition of this book, What If? (2008) -- I'm not sure how they differ, precisely, but the new version is about 20 pages longer and the chapter on counterfactualism in military history, at least, seems to have been largely rewritten. Black thinks that counterfactuals do have value for historians, so it's a good addition to the pile.

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Kristen Alexander. Taking Flight: Lores Bonney's Extraordinary Flying Career. Canberra: NLA Publishing, 2016. If Australia had an equivalent to Amy Johnson, Jean Batten, and Amelia Earhart, it was Lores Bonney: the first woman to fly around Australia (1932), the first woman to fly from Australia to England (1933), the first person to fly from Australia to South Africa (1937). But she's not very well-known. This might do something to change that. Looks like a nice companion piece to Michael Molkentin's Flying the Southern Cross, also published by the NLA.

James Harris. The Great Fear: Stalin's Terror of the 1930s. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. A short book making a big claim: that the purges were the result of the belief that the Soviet Union was under imminent threat by internal conspiracy and external attack. It wasn't, but in this case perception mattered more than reality. Hmm, that idea sounds familiar somehow...

I walked into the local secondhand bookshop thinking I should try to buy something to support them; and of course then walked out with an armful, including:

P. M. S. Blackett. Military and Political Consequences of Atomic Energy. London: Turnstile Press, 1948. Blackett was a bit of an overachiever: the Tizard Committee, the Royal Aircraft Establishment, director of operational research for the Admiralty, the Nobel Prize in physics for his work on antimatter, later MinTech. He even fought at Jutland. Here he grapples with the problem of nuclear weapons (he had been on the MAUD Committee which first investigated the feasibility of a fission weapon), starting with an analysis of the effects of strategic bombing in the late war (he was a sceptic, as he had been at the time) and ending with -- well, by his own admission, not very much by way of a solution, for which he blames the state of the world. Fair enough!

Nigel Calder. Nuclear Nightmares: An Investigation into Possible Wars. London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1979. The companion to a BBC documentary narrated by Peter Ustinov, of all people. The nuclear nightmares considered are: escalation, proliferation, decapitation, counterforce. So much for d├ętente.

Martin Ceadel. Thinking About Peace and War. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. A fairly persuasive attempt to classify peace movements on the basis of ideology, by one of the most influential British peace historians; but I do wish he'd come up with a less ugly formulation than 'pacific-ism' (sic) to differentiate absolute pacifists from those who accept that war is sometimes necessary.

I. F. Clarke. The Pattern of Expectation 1644-2001. London: Book Club Associates, 1979. Clarke's other defining work on predictive fiction, this time on future histories more generally, as opposed to just the military ones. I don't know it as well as Voices Prophesying War, because the uni library had in storage and it was a pain to get out. So my eyes lit up when I found this.

Edward Bujak. Reckless Fellows: The Gentlemen of the Royal Flying Corps. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2015. Much of our understanding of the airmen of the First World War has been dominated by the image of the knight of the air (or debunkings thereof); there hasn't been a lot of work done from a social and cultural perspective. This looks like an excellent corrective, tracking the change in the RFC from an often aristocratic elite to more technocratic and imperial force. There are chapters on training, observers, mechanics, and the Armistice. One chapter looks at Australian airmen, drawing partly on Michael Molkentin's work.

Ian Gardiner. The Flatpack Bombers: The Royal Navy and the Zeppelin Menace. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2009. As recommended on the Internet! A solid account of the early RNAS air strikes against Zeppelin bases, including the Friedrichshafen raid dreamed up by Pemberton Billing. I might have wished for more on the Admiralty's strategical thinking, but it's still worth it for the operational accounts.

Geoffrey Hawthorn. Plausible Worlds: Possibility and Understanding in History and the Social Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Perhaps the key theoretical justification for the study of counterfactual history, which -- despite the best efforts of some historians -- I think has value, if done carefully.

Rob Langham. Bloody Paralyser: The Giant Handley Page Bombers of the First World War. Fonthill Media, 2016. Speaking of counterfactuals, many an interwar airpower prophet sighed over the fact that the Handley Page V/1500 didn't get their chance to bomb Berlin before the Armistice and really show the world what bombers could do. On the one hand, the Super Handleys wouldn't have done all that much; on the other, the more ordinary Handley Pages that came before them did plenty, as Rob shows here.

M. Romanych and M. Rupp. 42cm 'Big Bertha' and German Siege Artillery of World War I. Oxford and New York: Osprey, 2013. Everything you always wanted to know about 42cm 'Big Bertha' and German siege artillery of World War I but were too afraid to ask.

Michael J. K. Walsh and Andrekos Varnava, eds. Australia and the Great War: Identity, Memory and Mythology. Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2016. Oh hai!

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One of the advantages of studying wartime airship panics, like the one in January 1915, is the relative abundance of private archives, diaries, letters and interviews for the 1914-1918 period which have been collected and catalogued. This makes it theoretically possible to compare the press view and the official view with the view from below, a rare combination in this line of work. Actually finding relevant private sources is rather hit and miss, partly because of the general lack of digitisation, partly because of the vagaries of memory and experience, of what seemed important to record or query. But because of the writer (or interviewer) is by definition concerned with wartime experiences, they are rather more likely to discuss scares and panics, spies and Zeppelins than would be the case for a purely peacetime context.

So what is there? Actually, let's start with what there isn't. One of the best-known civilian diarists of the First World War is the Reverend Andrew Clark, who was the parish priest at Great Leighs in Essex. He recorded a vivid account of how the war affected his village, and in particular took a keen interest in rumours of all kinds. As it happens, Great Leighs is only about 7 or 8 miles from Chelmsford, which was the centre of the 'Day of Dupes' rumours on 3 January 1915. And what did the Reverend Clark have to say about this? Nothing whatsoever! There is no entry for that date, and the following day has only some unrelated comments about Territorials and HMS Formidable. This is surprising, to say the least; the Chelmsford rumours reached London within an hour or so at the most, so it's hard to understand why they wouldn't have made it to neighbouring Great Leighs as well, at least within a day or two. However, on 5 January Clark does mention that he was 'still in grip of influenza', and it seems to have struck him on 3 January or so, so perhaps that explains it.1 But it could also be that the Day of Dupes was a victim of Clark's editor, who after all had to cut a lot: there are 92 volumes, 12 by March 1915, with 3 million words in total, compared with less than 300 pages in the published edition. So maybe a trip to the Bodleian is in order.
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  1. James Munson (ed.), Echoes of the Great War: The Diary of the Reverend Andrew Clark, 1914-19 (Oxford, Oxford University Press: 1985), 41. 

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Jeremy Black. What If? Counterfactualism and the Problem of History. London: Social Affairs Unit, 2008. What if I confused this book with an expanded edition under a different title? I'd probably end up ordering that edition too.

John Connor, Peter Stanley and Peter Yule. The War at Home. The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War, volume 4. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2015. It's possible that I bought this in part because I (or my ego) wanted to see if it cited me. But only in part. With sections covering politics, society and economy, there's something here for everyone [who is interested in the Australian home front in the First World War].

Leigh Edmonds. Australia Takes Wing 1900-1939. Flight in Australia, volume 1. Ballarat: BHS Publishing, 2015. I actually bought this last year, but forgot to list it here, I think because it's an ebook. The focus is very much on civil aviation, which Leigh argues has been (and is) more important here than in other countries with similar-sized populations and economies, by virtue of the practically unique geographical problems encountered in Australia. I'm looking forward to the next volume; you can buy this one here.

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Australia and the Great War

I have a new publication out -- at least, it's out electronically, I haven't seen a physical copy yet! It's a chapter in a collection published by Melbourne University Press and edited by Michael J. K. Walsh and Andrekos Varnava, Australia and the Great War: Identity, Memory and Mythology. My chapter is entitled 'The enemy at the gates: the 1918 mystery aeroplane panic in Australia and New Zealand'. It's based on my presentation at the British Empire and the Great War conference held at Singapore in February 2014, and as the title suggests is effectively an expansion of my article on the Australian mystery aeroplane panic of 1918 to encompass its New Zealand counterpart. In a way, expansion is not quite the right word, since I had to compress my discussion of the Australian side compared with the article version, and to be consistent I had to pitch the New Zealand part at the same level. But then again, compared with Australia there wasn't anything like the archival material in New Zealand, while the press was both more sceptical and more candid about what it thought was going on. And the fear of bombardment, as opposed to espionage, seems to have been uppermost there. So there were interesting differences as well as similarities to tease out, and it ended up being more than just a rehash of the Australian article with some Kiwi stuff thrown in.
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