Periodicals

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Getty Images has just announced an embed function, which makes it possible to very easily use images from their collections in blogs and other social media, while simultaneously maintaining Getty Images' rights and -- this is the really nice bit -- avoiding the use of unsightly watermarks. This is rightly being greeted with enthusiasm (though not so much by photographers), and I'll try to use it myself where possible. Even a quick search turns up many great historical images, some familiar, most not. (Basic tip -- to filter out stock photos, restrict your search to editorial images.)

But there are problems, too. Above is an example of a embed from Getty Images. It's from a lithograph by W. Walton of Day & Haghe, lithographers to the Queen, depicting 'Ariel, the first carriage of the Aerial Transit Company', and printed on 26 March 1843 by Ackermann & Co., Strand, London. But the only part of all that which is given in the Getty Images metadata is the title; the rest came from the Library of Congress's copy, which moreover has no usage restrictions at all (since it's long out of copyright) and shows the uncropped lithograph (admittedly, probably less desirable for a blog post). The only other information offered by Getty Images is that the date it was created was 1 January 1900, which is ludicrously incorrect.

We can't expect Getty Images to thoroughly research every image they hold, and an aeroplane flying over Egypt in the mid-19th century is kind of weird to begin with. But the problem of poor or incorrect Getty Images metadata is actually quite common.
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Under the terms of an agreement made in 1909 between the three main British aviation bodies, the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain concentrated on 'the scientific phases of the movement', the Aero Club of the United Kingdom was responsible for 'sporting and social aspects', and the Aerial League of the British Empire, the one I'm most interested in, took on 'the patriotic and propaganda' side of things.1 In terms of this propaganda role, I've usually tended to see the Aerial League as focusing more on fostering airmindedness among elites than the masses. After all, its ranks were filled with peers, solicitors, generals, journalists, politicians and other examples of the better-off classes of society.

But while this may be fair comment for the interwar League I'm starting to realise that this misrepresents the scope, or at least the ambition, of its activities before 1914. For example, in June 1910 it organised a very successful aeronautical exhibition in the grounds of the Crystal Palace, which ran for a couple of months. Claude Grahame-White's weekly aerial displays were the major drawcard, pulling in up to 10,000 spectators; according to Charles Gibbs-Smith, there were nearly riots when bad weather prevented flying.2 After hosting a luncheon for journalists to show them how the grounds had been adapted for aviation (including the construction of 'What is termed an "aerial cottage" -- that is to say, a cottage with an aeroplane shed attached and forming a part of the design'), Colonel H. S. Massy told them 'that the object of the league was to form a great central aeronautical institute with branches all over the country at which young men of small means would be able to qualify as airmen'.3 So although, as far as I know, this scheme was never attempted, there was at least an idea that it would be desirable to help those who could not otherwise afford to learn to fly.

The motive wasn't simply altruism, of course; it was to do with that other part of the Aerial League's remit, the 'patriotic'. As Massy further explained, 'if we, in this country, allowed the fatal drowsy sense of security born of freedom from foreign attack to gain the upper hand with us, we should not only be a laughing-stock, but an easy prey to our neighbours'.4 The same motivation presumably explains the Aerial League's patronage of a play entitled War in the Air, which premiered at the London Palladium on 23 June 1913. It was written by Frank Dupree, a journalist with the Standard who had flown with Gustav Hamel from Dover to Cologne in April, in an aeroplane which was donated to New Zealand by the Imperial Air Fleet Committee. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to locate any detailed descriptions of the plot in contemporary sources, although one London newspaper ridiculed its stage effects, claiming that 'Nothing [unintentionally] funnier has been seen on the veriety stage for years'.5 However, Andrew Horrall gives a useful précis in Popular Culture in London:

War in the Air, a play designed to arouse the nation to the hovering peril, whose cast included a young Noël Coward, detailed the heroics of Tommy Vincent the commander of Britain's fictional Central Aerial Station. As in many melodramas, female weakness caused the trouble. Vincent's fiancée had unwittingly allowed Britain's enemies to dupe his pilots into believing that the north-east coast was being invaded. As the British squadron headed north, the enemy's aircraft attacked Kent. Needless to say, such an evil, ungentlemanly ruse was discovered when the emboldened fiancée cabled a new warning and was avenged unsparingly as Vincent's planes destroyed the enemy fleet over Dover. These aerial battles were carried out between planes suspended on wires above the audience. Subsequent performances in Willesden and Shoreditch proved to Londoners that British pilots would protect them, from both air and seaborne invasions.6

It sounds like it combined elements of the invasion, naval and spy fiction of the period, which I would argue is quite characteristic; the airship panic earlier in the year -- in which Dupree's paper had played an enthusiastic part -- was much the same, and another airship play which opened a few months later, Sealed Orders, had a similar mix.7 I'm not sure if the Aerial League had any involvement in War in the Air beyond its patronage, and sending along representatives on opening night (as did the Imperial Air Fleet Committee).8 It doesn't appear to be mentioned in the minutes of the Aerial League's executive committee. But what was evidently its message -- the need for aerial preparedness -- certainly fit with the Aerial League's goals.
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  1. Flight, 4 September 1909, 532, 533

  2. The Story of the Air League 1909-1959 (Sidney-Barton, 1959), 5. 

  3. The Times, 7 June 1910, 12. 

  4. Ibid. 

  5. Quoted in New Zealand Herald (Auckland), 20 September 1913, 4

  6. Andrew Horrall, Popular Culture in London c. 1890-1918: The Transformation of Entertainment (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2001), 93. Horrall's main source is The Era, 28 June 1913, 19. 

  7. Ibid. 

  8. The Times, 21 June 1913, 10. 

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[Cross-posted at Society for Military History Blog.]

Ottawa Evening Journal, 15 February 1915, 1

On 15 February 1915, the Winnipeg Evening Tribune's daily astrology column noted the unfavourable positions of Mars and Uranus:

The affliction of Mars this month is ominous of outrages against persons in power. A disaster that will shock the people living in cities is threatened.

Uranus foreshadows peril from aeroplanes or Zeppelins. National alarm from unexpected causes is presaged by the planets.1

Readers might indeed have been excused for being alarmed, for the previous evening, Ottawa, the Canadian capital, had been placed on high alert due to reports of aircraft approaching it from the United States border. While no attack actually eventuated, the omens were not good -- at least according to the McClure Newspaper Syndicate's anonymous astrologer.
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  1. Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 15 February 1915, 6. 

As we all1 know, the Aerial League of the British Empire (later the Air League of the British Empire, now just the Air League) was founded in 1909. Less well-known is that the Aerial League also sponsored the formation of the Women's Aerial League (they are often described as being affiliated, or as the latter being part of the former, but while relations were friendly the Women's Aerial League seems to have led its own existence), which itself set up the Boys' and Girls' Aerial League (which I think later changed its name to the Young Aerial League). But even less well-known is that all of these aerial leagues were preceded by what seems to have been an entirely separate and apparently very short-lived air league known as Britain's Air League.

The only trace of this I have been able to find so far is a brief article in the Sunday Times in early January 1909:

BRITAIN'S AERIAL LEAGUE

On all hands the signs are visible that the aeroplane is rapidly becoming an accomplished fact. The appalling prospect which its use as an engine of warfare suggests has led to the formation of 'Britain's Aerial League,' the main object of which is to employ every means possible to bring about an international understanding by which the use of airships, aeroplanes, and other aerial machinery shall be prohibited in war, except for observation purposes. The incalculable damage which could be effected in a few hours by a fleet of foreign airships surely needs no insisting upon. Another object of the league is to urge upon public men, without distinction of party, the necessity for placing the United Kingdom upon a level with other countries as regards the building of aerial machines. It will also assist inventors in giving practical trials of their machines. The hon. secretary of the league is Mr. John Mayou, 1, Pump-court, Temple, E.C.2

The obvious question to ask is whether this might be in fact the good old Aerial League of the British Empire, given that it had its first meeting in February 1909, but with advance publicity appearing in the press in late January, less than three weeks after this article appeared. The name is different, of course, but maybe it was decided to change it before the actual launch -- 'Britain's Air League' is a rather awkward formulation, after all. Or perhaps the name was still under discussion at the start of January and the press was notified by mistake. It could be that this Britain's Air League is a glimpse of the embryonic Aerial League of the British Empire.
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  1. For very small values of 'all', obviously. 

  2. Sunday Times, 3 January 1909, 5. 

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Navy League poster, 1913

This is the poster produced by the Navy League in 1913 as a key part of its campaign to force the government to increase the amount it spent on military and naval aviation -- or as the poster itself puts it, rather more succinctly:

THE NAVY LEAGUE
DEMANDS £1,000,000.
FOR
AERIAL
DEFENCE

BRITONS
WAKE UP!

Describing this poster as a holy grail is somewhat of an overstatement, but it had been proving elusive. I'd read a description of it in the popular press, and found some information about where it was distributed and how much it cost in the Navy League archives, but I hadn't managed to find an actual reproduction of it until I looked at The Navy, May 1913, 135. The official organ of the Navy League was always a likely bet, but when I visited the UK last year, the British Library's copies were unavailable due to the move from Colindale to Boston Spa, and the relevant volume in the Navy League archives was missing. So, naturally, I found a copy in the State Library of Victoria on a quick visit during my holidays.

The description I'd already had turns out to have been perfectly accurate, and so arguably being able to see the design rather than read about it adds little (though the lines of airships and aeroplanes rising up behind Britannia might suggest it an influence from the Illustrated London News). But it will make a nice illustration for an article -- and even nicer if I can find a colour version...

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Pour la patrie

This must be about the strangest image to have ever appeared on this blog. How to explain it?

First of all, it was published in Review of Reviews, May 1913, 457, accompanying the second part of a two-part article by Count Zeppelin on 'The conquest of the air'. However, apart from the obvious aviation theme there's no obvious link to the text. The caption reads:

The Pictorial Postcard issued for sale on behalf of the Swiss National Aviation Fund.

I can't find much about the Swiss National Aviation Fund (which doubtless had a proper name in French and German -- there's a version of the postcard in the latter), apart from a solitary but simultaneous mention in Flight, 3 May 1913, 496:

Having arranged to fly at Aaran in the interest of the Swiss National Aviation Fund to which £16,000 has already been subscribed, Oscar Bider flew over from Berne on his Blériot tandem on the 22nd ult., in 45 mins.

This confirms what was already apparent from the name, that the Swiss National Aviation Fund was an effort to raise funds to buy aircraft, 'pour la Patrie', for the Fatherland, presumably for military purposes. (It seems to have been reissued during the First World War, in which Switzerland of course was neutral, but in need of aircraft more than ever.) Similar efforts were then underway in Britain and the Dominions, such as the Britannia Airship Committee and the Imperial Air Fleet Committee, and during the recent airship panic the Navy League had tried to get British municipalities to volunteer funds to buy aircraft for their own defence -- though I suspect none were as successful as the Swiss National Aviation Fund, if the report in Flight is correct.

All that may help explain the presence of this image in Review of Reviews, but it doesn't explain the image itself, a photograph of a sculpture, probably in clay, by the Italian Domenico Mastroianni. All I can offer is that the woman with the sword and the cross on her breast is Helvetia, the national personification of Switzerland. The grouping of her with the horses almost seems like a statue group; perhaps it is a reference to a well-known depiction, but I haven't been able to find it. Like Helvetia herself, the horses also seem to pull the image away from modernity into a classical past, which is contrary to how you'd expect such a radical new technology to be portrayed -- on the Italian side of the Alps, the even newer literary and artistic movement, Futurism, was filled with images of aviation precisely because it was such a break with the past. But perhaps that was the point of this image -- maybe by classicising the aeroplane and relating it to safe and familiar forms of patriotism and strength it reassured the viewer that the traditional virtues and mores would not be overturned along with transportation and warfare. It this context it might be noted that the British committees and leagues referred to earlier all had, in that typical Edwardian way, aristocratic patrons: Lord Desborough was president of the Imperial Air Fleet Committee, for example. It's a more subtle way of giving the same assurance, that the social order will be upheld.

It's still a bizarre image, though. And it must be pointed out that 3 hp is woefully underpowered for an aeroplane, even in 1913.

C. G. G. [C. G. Grey], 'A real aerial defence', Aeroplane, 12 June 1913, 670:

It has been brought to our attention -- it comes from the City, so it must be true -- that Britain has at last acquired a real means of enforcing the Aerial Navigation Act. It is alleged that a great inventor has persuaded the Secretary of State for War that he has an invention which, by means of Herzian [sic], or some similar waves -- vulgarly known as 'wireless' -- will cause the magneto ignition apparatus of all aircraft within a radius of seven miles to cease from functioning. In other words, the engines of all aircraft within range will be stopped, aeroplanes will be forced to land where they can, and dirigibles will be left at the mercy of the winds.

The account further states that the inventor has been allotted a piece of Government land in the neighbourhood of Folkestone, which is to be thoroughly surrounded by sentries to prevent foreign Powers who have neglected to provide themselves with City correspondents or copies of this journal from obtaining the slightest inkling of the fact that experiments are in progress.

This is a rather tongue-in-cheek account (if it's not clear from the quotation above, consider that Grey goes on to suggest that friendly aircraft be equipped with 'a clockwork or elastic drive' for backup -- and there's more where that came from), but it does sound like it derives from a real claim made by a City newspaper or newspaper correspondent, though it could just be a rumour current in financial circles. Even if Grey just made the whole story up, though, it's still a very early example of the idea of a death ray, at least in the sense, which became common from the 1920s, of an electromagnetic means of interfering with internal combustion engines at a distance. And it's in an air defence context, too. I know of no earlier such death rays, which of course means there are probably many.1


  1. H. G. Wells's 'Heat-Ray' from The War of the Worlds (1898) and George Griffith's 'death-rays' in The World Masters (1903) work differently, and weren't used against aircraft. 

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I have previously outlined evidence from the New Zealand press for mystery aeroplane sightings in that country in 1918. I think it is clear that the reports, though not great in number, did amount to a scare. Apart from the claims themselves, and the associated talk of aerial or naval bombardment of New Zealand's major cities, there is also the following overt discussion, published in several papers in early April 1918:

Since the disclosure of the boast by an officer of a German raider than he had passed over Sydney in a seaplane, the authorities in New Zealand have had to cope with quite an epidemic of reports about mysterious seaplanes circling around the more remote parts of New Zealand. In every case careful investigation has to be made, and in every case the report has been found to be without foundation. Some of these reports have found their way into the newspapers, causing somewhat of a scare, and it is intended to prosecute under the War Regulations any person who in future circulates, without good cause, any such report likely to cause public harm. If New Zealanders see any more mysterious visitants in the sky, their best plan will be to carefully verify the sight, and quity [sic; quietly] inform the nearest police or defence officer, avoiding any public mention, for fear that it comes under the scope of the numerous possible offences against these comprehensive War Regulations.1

So this tells us that there were a considerable number of mystery aeroplane sightings, only a fraction of which made it into the press; that the government wanted reports to be made to the police or defence authorities, threatening prosecution if any public statements were made; and that the government took the reports seriously and investigated them. This is very similar to what happened in Australia at around this time (where censorship of mystery aeroplane sightings seems to have been imposed a couple of weeks later), which is promising, because in the National Archives of Australia I found a trove of intelligence files relating to mystery aeroplane scares. So I hoped to find something similar in Archives New Zealand. But I didn't. Here's what I did find.
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  1. Auckland Star, 8 April 1918, 4

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Talk in the New Zealand press of mystery aeroplanes and the German threat died down by the beginning of May 1918. At the end of the month, though, mystery aeroplanes returned, followed a few weeks later by the German threat -- albeit both in a more muted fashion.

At Greymouth (on the west coast of the South Island) 'A report was circulated in town last evening [29 May 1918] that an aeroplane had been seen over the sea near the hospital last evening' [sic].1 Unfortunately there are no further details, but on the same night at about the same time, near Hokitika, 40 km to the south,

Several people, including a member of the [Hokitika] 'Guardian' staff, saw in the far roadstead last evening [29 May 1918], a number of vessels just before dusk. A pair of field glasses were obtained and nine vessels were counted. It is also stated that an aeroplane could be seen circling around in near vicinity to the ships. Quite a number gathered on the sea beach to view the interesting sight, but the fast approaching dusk soon hid a further view.2

At neither Greymouth nor Hokitika is any speculation recorded regarding the identity of these aeroplanes or ships.

About three weeks later, a story emerged, not of a new mystery aeroplane sighting, but of one which took place more than a year earlier. There were few details; it was only said that 'in the early part of last year [1917] a Clutha farmer stated that he had seen an aeroplane over the land, and that it had disappeared northwards'.3 This was suggested as 'corroboration to some extent' of reports that the German raider Wolf had sailed right around the New Zealand coast, carrying out aerial reconnaissance of various harbours.4 Further evidence that Wolf had been in southern waters at the time came from the crew of a trawler, who saw a light which they took to be another vessel (which turned out to be back in port), and local Māori, who saw searchlights playing over Stewart Island, again presumed to be from a ship (no government steamers were so equipped).5 This belated report prompted G. H. Lysnar to inform the Poverty Bay Herald and 'the authorities at Wellington' that 'in March or April last year [1917] [...] he saw the aeroplane or seaplane [...] from his station a few miles beyond Parikanapa, and it was travelling from Poverty Bay in the direction of between Mohaka and Wairoa':

Mr Lysnar says he regrets not having reported the occurrence at the time, but there then was no talk or thought of a raider with a seaplane visiting New Zealand, and he came to the conclusion at the time it was one of the flying machines from the Auckland Flying School paying a visit to either Napier or Wellington, and which preferred taking the coast line so as to be over cleared country; otherwise in the event of engine trouble it might have had to land in the back ranges in the bush.6

It's an interesting index of how much more probable a German aeroplane visit now seemed, that Lysnar felt compelled to give an elaborate explanation of why he hadn't thought to report what he had seen.
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  1. Grey River Argus (Greymouth), 30 May 1918, 2

  2. Guardian (Hokitika), 30 May 1918, via Press (Christchurch), 3 June 1918, 6

  3. Otago Daily Times, 20 June 1918, 8

  4. Ibid. 

  5. Ibid., 26 June 1918, 4; Nelson Evening Mail, 27 June 1918, 4

  6. Poverty Bay Herald (Gisborne), 2 July 1918, 4

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[Cross-posted at Society for Military History.]

IWM PST 12249

Above is a poster printed in Australia during the First World War. It very strikingly shows a Zeppelin caught in searchlights (with an aeroplane just visible at the top) over what looks like a town nestled in a valley beside a river. The text reads:

ZEPPELINS OVER YOUR TOWN ON ________

"COME TO OUR DUGOUT"

No Charge

It was pointed out to me by Peter Taylor, who found it in the Imperial War Museum's collections and noted that it seems unusual for a Zeppelin to feature in Australian propaganda. So what's going on here?
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