Books

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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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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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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

Bryn Hammond. Cambrai 1917: The Myth of the First Great Tank Battle. London: Phoenix, 2009. I was telling my students about Cambrai only yesterday... well, I mentioned it to them, anyway. Hammond argues that it was the improved British artillery doctrine that was the key breakthrough at Cambrai, rather than the massed tank assault it is usually remembered for.

Liz Millward. Women in British Imperial Airspace, 1922-1937. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008. A pioneering gender history of aviatrices in the British Empire, including Lady Heath, Amy Johnson, and above all the New Zealander Jean Batten. Not only is this potentially relevant to my aerial spectacle project, but Millward has more recently been looking at flying displays. So I need to pay attention.

H. G. Wells. The War in the Air, and Particularly How Mr Bert Smallways Fared while it Lasted. Harmondsworth and New York: Penguin, 1941. 3rd edition. I already own a copy of The War in the Air, but it's a modern edition. Yes, I'm one of those people.

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On ABC New England last week I briefly mentioned rumours of secret Zeppelin bases in Britain in the early months of the First World War. So far as I have been able to determine, the stories, which peaked in October 1914, centred on three locations: the Lake District, the Scottish Highlands and the Chiltern Hills.

The one in the Lake District is the best known of these, partly because of the involvement of B. C. Hucks, a famous aviator before the war (he was a regular at Hendon, the first British pilot to loop and, later, inventor of the Hucks starter), but paradoxically it's the hardest to find much information about. According to Cole and Cheesman,

One persistent rumour of a Zeppelin operating from a clandestine base near Grasmere was dispelled only after Lieut. B. C. Hucks -- a highly experienced prewar civil pilot -- had searched the Lake District from a Blériot monoplane.1

Hayward adds a few more details:

In September 1914 a local rumour in Cumberland held that a German airship was operating from a clandestine base near Grasmere, and flew sorties over Westmorland by night. The story was only dispelled after a Royal Flying Corps pilot undertook several patrols above the Lake District in a Bleriot monoplane, and saw nothing but glorious scenery.2

Similarly brief accounts can be found here and there, but they all likewise concentrate on Hucks' search rather than the rumours themselves, and I haven't been able to find any primary sources.3
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  1. Christopher Cole and E. F. Cheesman, The Air Defence of Britain 1914-1918 (London: Putnam, 1984), 8. 

  2. James Hayward, Myths and Legends of the First World War (Stroud: Sutton, 2002), 18. 

  3. Presumably the War Office and the Home Office are the places to look. Hucks' WO 339 might also have something. 

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The 1955 novel Biggles in Australia is the subject of an interesting article in Inside Story by Adam Nicol, 'Uncivil aviation: Biggles down under' (I like the line 'The common term “civil aviation” -- that is, flight for leisure -- suggests that aviation is intrinsically warlike'), which could be usefully read alongside my UNE colleague Erin Ihde's 'Biggles sees red: Saving Australia from the communist menace'.1 There is an error, though: in referring to the well-known fact that W. E. Johns, the creator of Biggles, called himself Captain Johns 'despite retiring from the Royal Air Force with the rank of flying officer, some four ranks below captain'. But flying officer is not four ranks below captain, unless Nicol is thinking of group captain, or naval captain, neither of which is the rank Johns was claiming. In fact there isn't a RAF rank of plain old captain, except for the brief period when there was, i.e. after the formation of the RAF in April 1918 and before August 1918 1919 when the current ranks (more or less) were established. In between, RFC ranks were used, that is to say, Army ranks. This is where Johns's captain comes from. Since flying officer in the RAF is the equivalent of a lieutenant in the Army, just below captain, Johns only promoted himself one rank, not four.

But this made me think that maybe there is a way to explain why Johns called himself captain, not flying officer, or at least to shed some light on the matter. (In fact he was very inconsistent about it, sometimes using one title, sometimes the other.) In fact it was not an uncommon practice for officers to be given an honorary promotion upon retirement. (Sometimes, too, they retired with the highest rank they may have temporarily held during their career, again normally one grade.) Apart from a bit of additional status in civilian life, I think this also meant a higher pension. Also, in this period when the Air Force was new, former officers who had been in the wartime RAF or indeed the RFC sometimes elected to be called by the military version of their ranks, since these were more familiar and could carry more cachet. P. R. C. Groves is an example of both. At the end of his career in the RAF he was a group captain, but was granted an honorary promotion to brigadier-general (and not air commodore, the next RAF rank up), which had not been an Air Force rank for nearly 3 years at this point. Since he'd actually spent 19 years in the Army and just under 4 in the RAF, brigadier-general might have felt more real to him, for all his devotion to the cause of airpower. But, usefully, since brigadier-general was, at the time, classed as a general officer rank, it also meant that he could be called General Groves, as indeed he always was, which is far more impressive than Air Commodore Groves, it must be said. Not everyone did this; L. E. O. Charlton, also ex-RFC, was happy with air commodore when he retired, though since he didn't receive an honorary promotion perhaps he didn't get any say in the matter.

As for Johns, I don't think he was actually granted an honorary promotion; the London Gazette's entry recording his retirement calls him a flying officer and says he is permitted to retain his rank.2 For comparison, the equivalent for Groves says he 'is granted the honorary rank of Brigadier-General'.3 Perhaps Johns felt he deserved an honorary promotion anyway; and almost certainly he thought Captain Johns sounded better than Flight Lieutenant Johns, the RAF equivalent, let alone Flying Officer Johns, his actual title. Maybe, too, those who had known him as a flying officer in the RAF assumed that he had earned his promotion, which might explain why he seems to have got away it even though he was still heavily involved in the aviation scene. Either way, we're stuck with Captain Johns now.


  1. Erin Ihde, 'Biggles sees red: Saving Australia from the communist menace', Australasian Journal of Popular Culture 2 (2013): 363-80

  2. London Gazette, 22 December 1931, 8260

  3. Ibid., 17 February 1922, 1415

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Kristen Alexander. Australia's Few and the Battle of Britain. Sydney: NewSouth, 2014. As an Australian, every time I watch Battle of Britain I notice the mention of the 21 Australian pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain, and the 14 who were killed (these numbers are actually undercounts). This is the story of eight of them before, during, and after; only one of whom survived.

Carolyn Holbrook. Anzac: The Unauthorised Biography. Sydney: NewSouth, 2014. How and why did Anzac become as important to Australians as it undoubtedly is today? It wasn't always so, as Carolyn's book shows. The PhD on which this is based won the Serle Award for best Australian thesis at the AHA last month, which is as auspicious an omen as you could hope for.

Bruce Scates. On Dangerous Ground: A Gallipoli Story. Crawley: UWA Press, 2012. Bruce gave the Russel Ward Lecture at UNE last night, on ways of telling the postwar stories of returned soldiers, using still-to-be-digitised repatriation records and moving pictures (in both senses of the phrase). But more importantly I got a free copy of his first novel, just for sitting in the first couple of rows of the audience! Winning.

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Alison Bashford. Global Population: History, Geopolitics, and Life on Earth. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014. This was launched at the Australian Historical Association conference this week and looked like fun -- an intellectual history of eugenics, birth control, food supply and, of course, world population, from the 1920s to the 1960s -- so I bought it.

Lara Feigel. The Love-Charm of Bombs: Restless Lives in the Second World War. London: Bloomsbury, 2014. I heard Feigel speak at Exeter a few years back. Here she has written something of a collective emotional biography of five key writers in Britain during the Second World War (Bowen, Greene, Macaulay, Spiel and Green). Inevitably the Blitz (and the V-weapons) bulk large, but it's not just about that.

Margaret MacMillan. The War that Ended Peace: How Europe Abandoned Peace for the First World War. London: Profile Books, 2014. There's a centenary on...

Sean McMeekin. July 1914: Countdown to War. London: Icon Books, 2013. ... in case you hadn't noticed.

Free books!

The Earl of Avon. The Eden Memoirs: Full Circle. London: Cassell, 1960. I already have the volume of Eden's memoirs covering his life up until 1938, so it's nice to complete the set. This one covers his postwar career; it's interesting to note that it was actually published first, out of chronological order, almost as though he felt he needed to defend his most recent period in office...

The Earl of Avon. The Eden Memoirs: The Reckoning. London: Cassell, 1965. Covers the period 1938-1945, including Eden's time as Churchill's wartime Foreign Secretary.

Winston S. Churchill. Great Contemporaries. London: Fontana, 1959 [1937]. Written during Churchill's wilderness (i.e. broke) years. Everyone from Alfonso XIII to Boris Savinkov is here.

Winston S. Churchill. My Early Life: A Roving Commission. N.p.: Fontana, 1959 [1930]. Churchill's own account of his youth, his time in the Army (including on campaign in the Sudan and on the North-West Frontier) and as a journalist (etc) in the Boer War.

Jack Fishman. My Darling Clementine. London: Pan, 1963. A biography of Clementine Churchill.

Warwick Heywood. Reality in Flames: Modern Australian Art & the Second World War. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 2014. This one I had to pay for -- the catalogue for a travelling AWM exhibition which is currently showing at NERAM in Armidale, and which just happens to include five works by Eric Thake, including Kamiri Searchlight.

Robert Rhodes James. Churchill: A Study in Failure, 1900-1939. London and Ringwood: Penguin, 1973. You may be sensing a bit of a Churchillian theme here. This is the pick of the bunch, a classic in its own right and an early (and still rather rare) critical biography.

'Johnnie' Johnson. Wing Leader. Harmondsworth and Mitcham: Penguin, 1959. Yes, '"Johnnie" Johnson is exactly how his name is written -- well, with the gloss 'Group Captain J. E. Johnston, D.S.O., D.F.C.' He was after all the highest scoring RAF ace of the Second World War, so he was a bit famous.

Harold Nicolson. Diaries and Letters: 1930-1939. London: Collins, 1966. I have the more recent, more definitive of his diaries, but that is less comprehensive, so it's nice to have this too.

Units of the Royal Australian Air Force: A Concise History, Vol. 9: Ancillary Units. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1995. Now I need the other nine volumes.

Kenneth Young. Churchill and Beaverbrook: A Study in Friendship and Politics. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1978. Some more Churcilliana. Given that this is dedicated to Max Aitken (fils, presumably), it's probably not likely to be very critical.