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Military History Carnival Edition Four has clearly been timed to catch me in transition from the southern to the northern hemisphere, so I'm a couple of days late in posting about it. For me, the most interesting post was Philobiblon's on the suggestion that the so-called Glorious Revolution was successful because the Dutch ships were more technologically advanced than the English ones -- in particular, they were faster and so were able to sweep in and unload their troops before the Royal Navy had time to react. This reminds me of Palmerston's remark in 1845 to the effect that steam power made the same scenario possible at that time. I wonder if 1688 influenced his thinking on this matter?

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Mind the gap

Hello everybody, I seem to have got here at last, it's been a long long time but here I am and jolly glad I am to be here at last (to quote Amy Johnson). I've been in Blighty for almost 24 hours at this point; here are some random thoughts and observations. Of course these are based only on what I've seen today, and should not be taken as representative of London or Britain as a whole!

  • the flight(s) went very smoothly (almost literally, only a few minor patches of turbulence), no major delays. I missed out on the window seat from Sydney but as it was dark for most of the flight that's no great loss.
  • going through Customs/Immigration is not as bad as I expected (particularly given the recent bomb plot).
  • public transport prices are ridiculously high.
  • Tube trains seem a bit, well, poky -- very narrow. Presumably that's a consequence of it being cheaper to make the tunnels narrower.
  • my first thought on the trip in from Heathrow was that the suburbs reminded me a bit of parts of inner Sydney. Except here it went on forever, in Australian cities good old suburban sprawl soon sets in.
  • Bloomsbury is rather nice. Lots of nice old buildings and leafy parks. Quiet. And so clean!
  • after I got settled in at Goodenough College, I went for a random wander. Found Oxford Street and made my way back to the British Museum, which is like 5 minutes' walk from the college. How cool is that?
  • I evidently put the mozza1 on Leo Amery a couple of years ago by remarking how often he turns up in my research. I've hardly ever come across him since then! But here he is again at last, not exactly in my research but as one of the founders of Goodenough in 1930.
  • four-way traffic lights seem weird to me.
  • I was surprised at how fast the traffic moves along Oxford Street -- without parked cars to act as a buffer, seems like it would be easy for a pedestrian on the footpath trip over and get your head split open by a double-decker bus. Of course, it was a Sunday, so maybe the traffic is jammed the rest of the week.
  • I keep thinking I see familiar faces among the crowd when walking down the street. Since just about everybody I know is on the other side of the planet, this seems unnecessarily perverse.
  • I can see I'm going to end up with pockets of loose change -- I'm bad enough at home! But now that I look at it, the coins are mostly similar enough in shape and colour to Australian numerical equivalents that I'll get by. 5p/5c, 10p/10c, 50p/50c are very close. £1 coins look like $2 coins. 20p coins just look weird. We don't have 1c and 2c coins anymore in Australia, I'll have to get used to counting in units of less than 5 again. And paper banknotes! That's a blast from the past.
  • so many internet kiosks out in the street, like phone booths. Is that a sign of progress or the lack thereof? In Melbourne, the few there are don't seem to get used much.
  • it IS possible to go the British Museum and not see either the Rosetta Stone or the Elgin Marbles. Like I said, it's only 5 minutes away ... I'll be back!
  • I wasn't tempted by the overpriced food inside the museum, the hotdogs being sold out the front were very tasty and much cheaper.
  • speaking of which, what's with all the hotdog vendors? It's not something I'd associated with English cuisine. Catering to American tourists, perhaps?
  • speaking of which, it's true what they say about American tourists.
  • I would just like to thank the many generations of British plunderers of the cultural heritage of conquered and otherwise downtrodden peoples for helping to make such a brilliant museum. You guys rock!
  • so did the Aztecs.
  • when both your mum and Douglas Adams tell you not to forget your towel, you should listen. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to find somewhere to buy a towel in this town.
  • on the other hand, every second shop around here seems to sell luggage, among other things. OK, there's lots of tourists about, but don't most of them already have luggage?
  • the concept of "service" doesn't seem to have made it into the philosophy of customer relations here yet.
  • but the nanny state ethos seems ingrained: trains telling me to mind the gap between the train and the platform, markings on the road telling me which way to look when I cross, no taps in the shower to let me do something as radical as adjusting the temperature of the water to my liking (though to be honest that probably has more to do with the nature of student accommodation than anything else).
  • biggest culture shock of the day: not being able to find anywhere that sells 500ml bottles/cartons of chocolate-flavoured milk (my currently-preferred way to get a chocolate fix). Neither Waitrose nor Tesco Express had any such thing, maybe this is more popular down under. On the other hand: mmmm, Milka. Hard to get back home.
  • I got massively ripped off on a 5m ethernet cable on Oxford Street. On the other hand, I did successfully haggle for perhaps the first time in my life, so I consider it a moral victory.
  • Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, LOL. Is there a Royal London Placebo Hospital as well, or would that be redundant?
  • you call that a night?! It's 5am and already bright as, well, day.
  • despite all my efforts and disruptions to my normal schedule, my body clock is evidently still on GMT+10.

Despite some of the grumbles above, it's fantastic to be here. As I said to a friend the other day, there'd be no point in coming if it was exactly like home!

Airminded will likely become something of a travel blog for the next couple of months, which will no doubt bore my UK readers (for which I apologise). But there'll also be more of the usual aeroplaney stuff too, particularly once I get stuck into the British Library ...

Edit: the photo was added two months later!


  1. Austral. colloq., "jinxed". 

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The big trip to the UK looms. It's my first and I'm greatly looking forward to it -- all the more so because I have long been fascinated by the place and its history. Although I can't say it was always my plan to do a PhD in British military aviation history, looking back, there were some clues:

Hawker Hurricane

Go ahead and laugh! This is a drawing I did when I was 9 or 10. It shows a Hawker Hurricane,1 specifically PZ865, "The Last of the Many", the final production unit. I proudly showed it to our neighbour across the road, who (as I recall) had been in the air force in the war (which back then, meant the Second World War). All I can remember of his reaction was that he said the nose was too long for a Hurricane, and well, he was right :)
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  1. As the cunningly-drawn faux brass plate at the bottom informs the viewer. LOL. 

A couple of weeks ago, I showed how the blitzkrieg became the Blitz. Now I'll show how the knock-out blow became the blitzkrieg.

Despite the abandon with which the term blitzkrieg is thrown around these days to describe the "lightning" German campaigns of the early years of the Second World War, it turns out that it was not a word much used at the time by the German army or German strategists (though neither was it entirely unknown). It's even been denied that there was even such a strategic concept as blitzkrieg, whether known by that name or not -- certainly not until after the German conquest of France, usually held to be the classic example of blitzkrieg. Karl-Heinz Frieser, in his revisionist (but well-received) book The Blitzkrieg Legend opens by saying that

In sober military language, there is hardly any other word that is so strikingly full of significance and at the same time so misleading and subject to misinterpretation as the term blitzkrieg.1

On Frieser's account, the attack against France and the Low Countries owed less to some innovative pre-war doctrine and more to individual initiative and astute tactics, resulting in a surprising (and strange) victory.2 He argues that rather than thinking of blitzkrieg as strategic in nature -- a way to win a war -- it might be better conceptualised as an operational idea -- a way to win an operation or a campaign (Blitzoperationen, perhaps). This is important, because (according to Frieser), after the fall of France Hitler and his generals made the mistake of thinking they could blitz their way to quick victories, without paying attention to the longer-term economic foundations of a war economy. They fell into the 'semantic trap' of blitzkrieg. Hence Barbarossa.
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  1. Karl-Heinz Frieser, The Blitzkrieg Legend: The 1940 Campaign in the West (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2005), 4. 

  2. This helps explain the otherwise puzzling halt of the panzers before Dunkirk -- the German high command lost its nerve as it had lost control of its lower-echelon commanders. It wasn't the first time they'd tried to slow the panzers down, which were usually running far ahead of the mostly non-mechanised infantry. 

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I've been good, I really have! I haven't bought any books for ages, since I've been economising in advance of the UK trip. But yesterday I went looking for a Shute to take with me, and couldn't find one, but instead came away with an armful of other books.

Midge Gillies. Waiting for Hitler: Voices from Britain on the Brink of Invasion. London: Hodder & Staughton, 2006. Summer, 1940. Should be an interesting complement to my own research on the early Blitz, though this leaves off where I start.

Peter Padfield. The Great Naval Race: Anglo-German Naval Rivalry, 1900-1914. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2005 [1974]. A good narrative history which I've used before, now with a new introduction assessing some of the historiography since it was originally published (in particular, the contributions of Sumida and Lambert). Next to it on the shelf was a new book on the same topic, with a very similar title. It looks brilliant but it's $160 (not far short of £70)! Utterly ridiculous.

Anne Perkins. A Very British Strike: 3 May-12 May 1926. London: Pan, 2007. I've been looking for a decent book on the General Strike for ages, and this looks like it fits the bill.

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Around Easter, I happened to have a camera on me when an airship was passing overhead, and managed to take a couple of pictures before the camera batteries died. But they didn't look quite right, and eventually I realised that it was because the airship was too red. Everybody knows, at least subconsciously, that airships are always silver grey; in fact, they probably should be photographed in black and white. So I used Photoshop to turn the airship into grey and the photograph into black and white. It looks much better now!

Holden airship

The black line could almost be a bracing wire on some Sopwith biplane, straining to reach the raider. Sadly, it's just part of the tram power distribution system.

The other day I came across a fascinating article by H. L. Mencken, the Sage of Baltimore. Mencken was very interested in colloquial English, and to this end penned "War words in England", published in the February 1944 American Speech, about new words coming into use in the British press as a result of the war. Some are still familiar today (like decontamination -- for some reason I'd never realised it was first used in connection with anti-gas precautions), some are still familiar enough though no longer current (siren-suit, appropriate attire for the lady shelterer), others are long forgotten (at least, they're new to me, e.g., to spitfire and to hurricane -- to shoot down an enemy plane). He generally avoided invented words which never gained much popularity, along with acronyms or words formed from them.

Here are some of the more interesting words listed by Mencken.

First there's blitzkrieg/blitz and derivatives: blitzfighter, an 'airman or soldier engaged in fighting against a blitzkrieg';1 blitzflu, a 'mild influenza, sudden in its attack', which struck during the winters of 1941-2 and 1942-3; blitzlull, a break in a blitz; blitzpeace, a peace offensive by Hitler; fireblitzed, 'Of an area devastated by air bombardment'; flare-blitz, bombers dropping flares. And of course sitzkrieg, a slow war: according to Newsweek (4 March 1940), in coining this the RAF 'scored a direct pun on the word blitzkrieg'. Despite its popularity, there were evidently many people who didn't like having to use a German word so often -- one alternative was to raff (i.e. RAF) a target, another to ruhr it (as in the Ruhr valley, a heavily-industrialised and often-bombed area of western Germany -- kind of a reverse coventration). But the Children's Newspaper thought that the large number of warlike foreign words imported into English perhaps 'proves that our national genius is for peace rather than war' (26 July 1941).

Another cluster relates to air raids and associated experiences: flitter, 'One who sleeps away from home to escape air alarms' (more usually called a trekker); goofer, someone who doesn't take shelter during an air raid; jitterbug, `A nervous person', according to Mencken's quotes this seems to have a favourite of Cabinet ministers; roof-spotter, somebody watching out for bombers (ie so as to warn the business below that a raid was actually approaching, otherwise work would have to cease everytime an alert sounded); shelteritis, rheumatism; skelter, an air-raid shelter.

Evacuee (from the French evacué) is a word still in use which appears to derive from directly from preparations for air attack in the 1930s; the first use in The Times is from 1938, in the aftermath of Munich. But as with blitzkrieg, there was much resistance at first: 'Evacuees has a dreadfully alien and official sound, and the novelty of the word is as uncomfortable as new paint' (Western Evening Herald, 28 October 1939). Many alternatives were proposed, unsuccessfully it seems: pilgrims, shelterers, sojourners, refugees, war guests, 'Itler's orphans, movers, exodists/exos (from exodus), dumpees/dumpies, agisters (as though they were farm animals), removee, migrant, transient, scatterer. More successful variants (according to Mencken) were evacuatrix, a female evacuee; guinea-pig, an evacuee or billeted soldier; seavacuation, overseas evacuation, particularly of children; vackie/vack/vickie, abbreviation of evacuee.

Finally, a grab-bag of miscellaneous terms: battle bowler, the helmet worn by soldiers and ARP wardens, a term first heard during the First World War; block-buster, a bomb which can destroy a whole city block (a fun fact to tell students in tutes, I've found); bomphlet/bomphleteer, propaganda pamphlets dropped by air and the airmen who drop them; chatter-bug, a civilian who spreads military secrets; parashot/parashooter/paraspotter, Home Guards who are watching for paratroops (itself a new word) -- parashot was a very common word in the summer of 1940, which is a testament to the fear of airborne invasion at the time; shiver-sister, a scared civilian (with chatterbug, an invention of Harold Nicolson, apparently); and telefootler, 'a word for those selfish people who indulge in idle gossip and time-wasting talks on the telephone' (Herne Bay Press, 1 March 1941). I think this last word should be revived -- we all know a telefootler or two, I'm sure.

So the conclusion seems to be that having a war now and then is good for linguistic diversity.


  1. H. L. Mencken, "War words in England", American Speech, 19 (1944), 3-15; JSTOR. All quotes from this source. 

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This is very cool: the Australian War Memorial, Australia's foremost military history museum, seems to be getting into blogging in a big way! Today, there was an announcement on H-War (and Victoria's cross? is already on the case) of a group blog running in conjunction with an exhibition about Australia's participation in the big Western Front battles of 1917: To Flanders Fields, 1917. It's maintained by a group of AWM curators and historians: Peter Burness, Craig Tibbitts, Shaune Lakin and Anne-Marie Condé.

That's all I was going to mention, but I noticed that the AWM has set up a subdomain called blog.awm.gov.au, which suggested that there might be other AWM blogs out there. Now, that page is completely blank, so I used my Google-fu to see if I could find anything else using that domainname. And there are four more blogs! Focus: photography & war 1945-2006; Gallipoli Battlefield Tour 2007; George Lambert: Gallipoli & Palestine Landscapes; Lawrence of Arabia & the Light Horse. All of them accompany AWM exhibitions, except for the Gallipoli tour one, obviously. Presumably they won't be updated after their associated exhibition ends, but then there'll be other blogs to replace them.

The AWM is to be applauded for this. They all look very interesting and are already well-established, with posts on a variety of intriguing topics, with some fantastic illustrations to boot (drawing on one of the Memorial's strengths there). A lot of effort has been put into them and it shows. But I wonder why I haven't come across any of these blogs before? Partly it's because I don't visit the AWM homepage often enough -- they're all listed there quite prominently (so much for Google-fu!) But another part of the answer would seem to be that the AWM's bloggers haven't tried to hook into the rest of the historioblogosphere -- there are no links to other blogs in their sidebars or posts (that I could see anyway). Whether this is by design or by accident I can't say -- I can see why they'd want to focus on their own content -- but I think they're missing out on promotional opportunities by neglecting the social networking aspect of blogging. Hopefully a bit of linkage in their direction will show them what they are missing.

I don't want to end on even that slightly sour note, as I do think this is really exciting, so I'll point to one post by Anne-Marie Condé which caught my eye. It's about the Australian War Records Section, formed in London in May 1917, effectively the origins of the AWM itself, and features some photographs and artefacts associated with it, such as a 1918-pattern pair of anti-gas goggles and a stuffed carrier pigeon. There's also some more good news: the AWM is digitising the war diaries of Australian Army units involved in the various wars of the twentieth century. The project is only its early days, but this is going to be a tremendous resource for historians and genealogists. I was disappointed, though, to discover that war diary entries don't begin with sentences like 'Dear war diary, today we launched another futile assault against Turkish positions at Lone Pine ...' :D