It's never too early to start thinking about the shape of the next war, even if the current one is still being fought. At the end of May 1945 -- only three weeks after V-E day and over two months before V-J day -- some discussion on the subject was held in the House of Lords by interested peers. On 29 May, Lord Vansittart proposed an international commission of scientists to monitor Germany to make sure it did not develop or use 'any scientific discovery or invention considered dangerous to the safety of mankind'.1

He said we were dealing with a periodically homicidal nation, and unless we kept a firm hand on them we should have V10 in less than 10 years. There had been an insufficient answer to V 1, and no answer at all to V 2 except the old-fashioned one of conquering the sites. Science had not given the answer. The second world war had been within measuring distance of the atom bomb. Where would the third begin? We had had the very devil of a lesson, and it would be our own fault if we had another.2

He also called for something like 'a world inspectorate in order to guard against the development or over-development of secret devices',3 which could lead to 'a secret armaments race of a far more terrifying character' than any that had gone before.

Vansittart was clearly disturbed by the effects of the German V1 and V2 missiles on London. At this time, London was (along with Antwerp) the only great city in the world with experience of missile warfare -- the last one had fallen in March 1945. V2s in particular were very unsettling, as no defences and no warnings were then possible for objects travelling on a ballistic trajectory four times faster than the speed of sound.
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  1. The Times, 30 May 1945, p. 8. 

  2. Ibid. 

  3. Ibid. 


Part of a BBC broadcast by George Bernard Shaw, entitled 'Whither Britain?', 6 February 1934:

Are we to be exterminated by fleets of bombing aeroplanes which will smash our water mains, cut our electric cables, turn our gas supplies into flame-throwers, and bathe us and our babies in liquid-mustard gas from which no masks can save us? Well, if we are it will serve us right, for it will be our own doing. But let us keep our heads. It may not work out in that way. What will London do when it finds itself approached by a crowd of aeroplanes capable of destroying it in half-an-hour? London will surrender. White flags and wireless messages 'Don't drop your bombs; we give in' will fill the air. But our own squadrons will have already started to make the enemies' capitals surrender. From Paris to Moscow, from Stockholm to Rome, the white flags will go up in every city.1

Shaw accepts a key tenet of the knock-out blow here: that it is awesomely destructive. So much so that the immediate impulse would be to surrender. But he also accepts another tenet: that it is extremely fast. He uses this to paint an absurd picture of the capitals of Europe therefore surrendering simultaneously. In effect, the knock-out blow is so powerful that it is pointless to attempt it. Flight (the more moderate of the two British aviation weeklies) quoted Shaw because he illustrated its editorial position, that the bombing of civilians as such would not happen, just as dum-dum bullets were not used in the late war, and prisoners were not tortured to death: 'absolutely unrestrained warfare is unthinkable. A line must be drawn somewhere'.2 It was therefore sensible to ban bombing of civilians (as opposed to legitimate military targets), but not to ban bombers altogether, as some were trying to get the Disarmament Conference at Geneva to do. Even worse would be to ban fighters, because they were a sure defence against airliners converted into bombers.

I didn't know that GBS had spoken on the wireless about the threat of bombing. It was only in looking through another, printed, source that I came across this excerpt. As it happens, Shaw's broadcast (part of a series of twelve; another speaker was H. G. Wells) has been preserved3 and can be purchased, or even listened to for free (if you are in the British Library).

Radio Times, 1934

But more generally, I wonder what the best way to find information about the contents of early radio broadcasts is? Infax is great, but very incomplete for my period, has only very basic search capabilities, and limited information as to content. Ditto for the British Library Sound Archive. I think the best sources are likely to be the Radio Times and The Listener. The former isn't available here (before 1959, anyway); I've never seen a copy and I don't even know how detailed its information would be. But I see that the State Library carries The Listener -- apparently more highbrow and so probably a better bet anyway -- from September 1937 onwards, so that's something.

Image source: TV & Radio Bits.

  1. Quoted in Flight, 15 February 1934, 141. 

  2. 15 February 1934, 141. 

  3. You'll have to search for it yourself, thanks to the BL's ignorance of the value of stable URLs. Searching for what seems to be an alternative title, 'Are we heading for war?', should take you straight to it. 

Chain letters are a kind of meme, but not a good kind -- inane, threatening, pointless. They are surprisingly venerable and ubiqitous, however. Many past cultures had some form of chain letter, generally claimed to be communications from a god. In medieval and early modern Europe, these "messages from heaven" seem to have been fairly common. Here's part of a letter written in English by Jesus Christ himself in 1795:

And he that hath a copy of this my own letter, written with my own hand, and spoken with my own mouth, and keepeth it without publishing it to others shall not prosper; but he that publisheth it to others, shall be blessed of me, and though his sins be in number as the stars of the sky, and he believe in this he shall be pardoned; and if he believe not in this writing, and this commandment, I will send my own plagues upon him, and consume both him and his children, and his cattle.

And here's one which I found the other day in the Spectator of 20 May 1922, p. 621:


Copy this out and send it to 9 people to whom you wish good luck. The chain was started by an American officer, 'Buddie,' and should not be broken. It should go three times around the world, and whoever breaks it will have bad luck. Do it within 24 hours and count 9 days, and you will have great good luck.

According to a detailed analysis of chain letter evolution by mathematician Daniel VanArsdale, there was a deluge of these (or very similar) "good luck" chain letters in 1922 -- another British one from the month before is reproduced here. The above example was sent in by T. Herbert Bindley of Denton (apparently a translator of Christian apologetics), who -- having received three examples in the previous few weeks -- despaired that `there is still a number of idiots at large who, out of sheer superstition, are unable to refrain from perpetrating and perpetuating an imbecility' such as this. He thought it a sign of 'intellectual degeneracy' in an age of 'waning faith'.

Well, that was then -- this is now. Luckily I'm not an intellectually degenerate idiot, and so won't be helping this bad meme to propagate.


Thinking Blogger Award

It turns out that memes are like buses ... none come along for a year and a half, and then I get tagged three times in about a month! Firstly, William Turkel of Digital History Hacks tagged me with 5 Things. Then Dave Davisson, the Patahistorian,1 independently tagged me with the same meme. Finally, Kevin Levin of Civil War Memory very graciously tagged me with a Thinking Blogger Award. Well, it's sort of a cross between a meme and an award -- the award bit is that I get a little badge thing to display here (above) and the following citation:

Brett Holman's Air Minded focuses on British history between 1908 and 1941 and while that may seem like a fairly narrow focus he somehow manages to comment on much broader issues related to war, society, and technology. The upshot is that I end up learning a great deal about a period in history that I know little about.

The meme bit (which originated at the thinking blog) is that I have to tag five other bloggers who I think fit the description of "thinking bloggers" (which I don't think is meant to imply that everyone else is an unthinking blogger!)
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  1. I think there's still only one. Either that, or We Are All Patahistorians Now. 


Here in Australia, we're just catching up on the last two series of Foyle's War, a British detective drama which differs from the estimated 734 other British detective dramas in existence by being set in Sussex during the Second World War. This is a very large part of its charm (though due regard must be given to the performances of the three leads, Michael Kitchen, Honeysuckle Weeks, and Anthony Howell -- classic English diffidence and stiff-upper-lippery all round, if you like that sort of thing). The war is used very well, I think -- plots generally revolve around some aspect of wartime experience, such as black marketeering, conscientious objectors, homegrown fascists. The Blitz and the threat of invasion overshadow the early episodes; the Yanks turn up in the later ones and start stealing all the women.

But the episode which screened last Sunday, "Bad blood", initially didn't look very promising in terms of its use of history. There were some uncharacteristically clunky references to various battles and personalities shovelled into a couple of conversations, along the lines of 'well it looks like Russia's done for, Stalingrad will be next to fall (wink wink) and what about old Rommel, eh?' Though it does at least allow us to date one scene to a period of approximately 5 minutes on the morning of 19 August 1942, because we are told that 'it looks like things might work out in Dieppe'! But all of that was forgiven as the central plot unfolded ...
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[Cross-posted at Revise and Dissent.]

At Investigations of a Dog, Gavin Robinson has proposed organising a military history carnival, which I think is a great idea. It would aim to gather together the best posts on the history of war in all its facets -- not just military operations (AKA "fighting"), but also how war intersects with social, cultural, political, gender, economic, diplomatic, local, public ... (you get the idea) ... histories. Representations, memories and forecasts of war are perfectly legitimate subjects too. Similarly, hosts and participants need not be specialists in military history: war affects us all, in one way or another.

Various issues under discussion include how frequently it should be held, whether to exclude recent-ish events, and most importantly, what to call it! So, please head on over and have your say.


Australian Ex-Prisoner of War Memorial

And marble, and granite, and wood ...

I wrote recently that every town in Australia seems to have a war memorial. Here are some examples, photos I took over a three day period without going too far out of my way. This post is image-heavy, but everyone has broadband now don't they?
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Adrian Gilbert. POW: Allied Prisoners in Europe, 1939-1945. London: John Murray, 2006. Due to recent findings, a subject I'd like to know more about. (Over and above the thorough grounding I've received from watching The Great Escape, Hogan's Heroes, etc.) Not to be confused with the celebrated author of The Mayan Prophecies and The Cosmic Wisdom Beyond Astrology. Thankfully.

K. S. Inglis. Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape. Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2005 [1998]. A classic book which I've only just gotten around to buying. Just as in Britain (as I am led to believe, anyway), nearly every city, town and suburb in Australia, large or small, has a war memorial to commemorate their dead soldiers.

N. J. McCamley. Cold War Secret Nuclear Bunkers: The Passive Defence of the Western World during the Cold War. Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 2002. Who wouldn't be fascinated by a title like that? Well, most people probably. Mostly about British bunkers and post-apocalyptic contingency planning, but also has a few chapters on America and Canada. Well-illustrated.


Imperial Airways

A follow-on of sorts to a recent post.

Imperial Airways was Britain's main international airline between 1924 and 1939. It enjoyed semi-official status, as it was subsidised by the British government, and had the contract to deliver air mail throughout the Empire. Another international airline was formed in 1935, British Airways,1 which serviced European routes (and it was apparently subsidised as well, at least for the London-Paris route). Imperial did too, but only it flew the long-distance routes to South Africa, India, Hong Kong, Australia (with help from QANTAS) and points in between. I'm not sure if this was an official monopoly, or just because it was difficult to compete over such long distances without subsidies. I also wonder what would have happened if the Imperial Airship Scheme had gone into operation -- would Imperial have run that too? Anyway, in November 1939, Imperial and British were merged into BOAC, the British Overseas Airways Corporation.
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  1. Not the current BA, though they are related.