Erik Larson. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. Brunswick and London: Scribe, 2015. Over 200 successful transatlantic crossings, but get sunk just one time and nobody remembers that. Mainly a narrative history but there's nothing wrong with that from time to time. Also, like the next book, it was free (thanks, Richard!)

Lynn Olson. Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in its Darkest, Finest Hour. Brunswick and London: Scribe, 2015. A history of the Anglo-American alliance viewed through the lens of three men who, Olson argues, did most to bring it about: Averell Harriman (head of Lend-Lease), Edward Murrow (CBS correspondent), and John Winant (US ambassador). I'm not sure how necessary these men were, or could have been, to the alliance, but they were certainly signficant in their own right, so it should be worth a read.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Southern Mail/Night Flight. London: Penguin, 1976. I have long wanted to read Saint-Exupéry (not counting The Little Prince). These are his first two novels, based on his experiences as a commercial pilot pioneering air routes across the Sahara and South America; by all accounts some of the most beautiful writing about flying in the golden age.

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NAA: A2023, A38/2/147/677

I ended the previous post in this series with the tease:

In a final post, I will discuss what [Alban] Roberts called his airship, and what it might mean.

That was over two months ago! I think it's time to finally reveal the answer to this question.

According to Errol Martyn, who has written what must be the fullest account of Roberts' career, says that around the time of the airship's tethered test, it was 'patriotically named Australia 1'.1 He gives no source for this name and I couldn't find a reference to it in Trove or elsewhere. In fact, most of the press accounts don't call it anything other than 'the airship' or 'the dirigible'. But not all:

Mr A. J. Roberts's airship, the White Australia, left the Show Ground yesterday under its own gas [...]2

and

The trial flight of Mr A. J. Roberts' airship, White Australia, from the Sydney Showground, ended abruptly on Sunday afternoon.3

I find this extraordinary. Australia's first airship was named for a racist policy of ensuring an Australian nation free from non-Europeans. Why?
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  1. Errol W. Martyn, A Passion for Flight: New Zealand Aviation Before the Great War, Volume 3: The Joe Hammond Story and Military Beginnings 1910-1914 (Upper Riccarton: Volplane Press, 2013), 98. 

  2. Sun (Sydney), 5 July 1914, 4

  3. Maitland Daily Mercury, 6 July 1914, 6

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F. G. Brown. Air Navigation Based on Principles and Methods applicable also to Sea Navigation. Sydney and London: Angus & Robertson, 1940. Teaches the same methods successfully used by P. G. Taylor over the Indian Ocean in June 1939! A useful reminder for the non-pilot (i.e. me) of just how much maths is involved in aerial navigation -- this copy even comes with 3 pages of handwritten notes from some poor former owner. As an Australian publication (Brown was late Chief Naval Instructor, Royal Australian Navy and Director of Studies, Royal Australian Naval College), I imagine a few copies of this accompanied Empire Air Training Scheme graduates on their way to Bomber Command.

Stephen Budiansky. Blackett's War: The Men Who Defeated the Nazi U-boats and Brought Science to the Art of Warfare. New York: Vintage Books, 2013. The Blackett of the title is P. M. S. Blackett, a bit of a neglected figure these days. He was awarded the Nobel in physics in 1948 for his work on antimatter in cosmic rays. During the Second World War he was a key figure in the development of operational research, mostly for Anti-Aircraft Command and the Admiralty; he dared to argue that the resources being poured into Bomber Command could be better used elsewhere. Crazy talk.

Martin Woods. Where Are Our Boys? How Newsmaps Won the Great War. Canberra: NLA Publishing, 2016. A gloriously-illustrated book showing how Australians were kept informed (or misinformed) about the progress of the First World War through maps in the press or sold separately. To repeat: glorious.

Keep Calm and friends

Earlier this week I had my first article published in The Conversation, on the actual original context for the Keep Calm And Carry On poster, as opposed to the assumed original context. The Conversation is a great platform for academics to get their work and ideas out to the public, and to provide expert analysis of what is happening in the world. It's largely funded by universities and only academics, researchers or PhD students can write for it; it has a slick writing and reading interface and even actual editors who will commission articles and actively work with authors to improve them, particularly in terms of accessibility to a general audience. (There's no payment for writing, but academics are used to that.) The Conversation started out in Australia, but it has since branched out to the UK, the US, France and Africa. Here in Australia, at least, it feeds into other forms of media: everything is Creative Commons licensed, to encourage wide republication on other news sites, and three radio stations lined up interviews: I spoke to Genevieve Jacobs on 666 ABC Canberra on Wednesday (for a few days, you should be able to listen on the replay at about 1:28:44), Ali Clarke on 891 ABC Adelaide (ditto at about 37:07), and I will be speaking to Sean Britten on 2SER (Sydney) next Wednesday.

I won't go into any detail about the article itself, in part because it's a reworking of a post I wrote here at Airminded earlier this year. But I will post a bigger version of a graphic I stitched together to show Keep Calm alongside the other two posters designed by the Ministry of Information at the same time, and (unlike Keep Calm) actually displayed to the public on a large scale. It was inspired by a similar comparison which for some reason had green and blue posters as well as red. I couldn't find unambiguous evidence that these colours were used, whereas red definitely was, so I put together this version which might be of use to somebody.

The Conversation is not your usual media website, so if you're an academic and you've got something to say, why not pitch an idea?

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Michael North and Davy Burnaby. 'Lords Of The Air'. Sydney: D. Davis & Co., 1939. Thanks, Bart!

Frank H. Shaw. Outlaws of the Air. Glasgow: The Children's Press, 1927. Thanks again, Bart! Shaw was a former naval officer who was also a prolific writer of war stories and science fiction aimed primarily at boys. This particular outing is a throwback to Verne, in fact an aerial version of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, with an incredibly powerful 'mystery airsip' instead of a submarine (called the Avenger, perhaps an allusion to the wreck of the Vengeur which was visited by the Nautilus).

People are nice. At the AHA today, I bumped into Bart Ziino, who gave me a present: the sheet music for a 1939 ballad called 'Lords Of The Air'. I'd not heard of it before, though I've probably heard it before as it was played in several episodes of Dad's Army. You can listen to that version above; it's a somewhat different arrangement as it's for an orchestra, not the piano. Here are the lyrics:

The British Empire proudly stands
As in the days of old,
Our fathers fought o'er land and sea,
Their history is told
In our new battle-field, the sky,
Prepared to do or dare
Let this be our new battle-cry
'Britannia rules the air.'

England our island home,
Land of the free,
England unconquered yet
O'er land and sea,
Lord of the heav'ns above
Answer our prayer,
God keep Britannia’s sons
Lords of the air.

Source: Michael North and Davy Burnaby, 'Lords Of The Air' (Sydney: D. Davis & Co., 1939).

'Lords Of The Air' was described as one of the 'newest compositions' in early November 1939, so perhaps it was inspired by the Wilhelmshaven raid on the second day of the war, which achieved a propaganda victory if nothing else. 'Lords Of The Air' certainly captures that sense of wishful thinking and empty boasting; it perhaps aspires to be a 'Rule, Britannia!' for the air age. By the end of 1939 it does seem to have become the most successful of several collaborations by Michael North (music) and Davy Burnaby (words), often being sung alongside better-remembered songs as 'There'll Always Be An England' (as recorded by Joe Loss and His Concert Orchestra, featuring Monte Rey) and 'We'll Meet Again'. My copy was printed for the Australasian market, and here too it was a popular choice for patriotic concerts and community singing, particularly during the period of the Battle of Britain and the Blitz (in fact, I suspect you could use its popularity as an index of concern about the progress of the air war in Europe).

So 'Lords Of The Air' turns out to be a nice little marker of patriotic airmindedness from the start of the Second World War. Thanks, Bart!

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?

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The Australian airship of New Zealander Alban Roberts seems to have had only three outings, all in 1914. The first of these was a tethered test at the Sydney Agricultural Showground on 23 June, in which the envelope was filled with hydrogen, united with the nacelle, and 'dragged into an open space, to undergo its first trial flignt'.1 The test was successful, in that the airship rose 80 feet into the air while carrying a passenger (Mrs Roberts), as far as the tethers would allow. This was reassuring, since a recent storm had allowed air to enter the envelope, displacing some of the hydrogen and lessening its lifting power. The airship was also able to move forward under its own power, again with someone on board (Mr Roberts, this time). However, this was not a particularly impressive feat: despite the near-complete absence of wind, and despite having detached everything detachable in order to counteract the loss of hydrogen, it was able to move no faster than 'walking pace'.2 The airship also suffered some damage, when part of the nacelle collapsed under Colin Hall, Roberts' chief mechanic. As he was some 30 feet up at the time, he had to clutch at the tethers until the airship could be pulled back down. At least this spectacle 'provided a fund of excitement for the privileged onlookers'.3
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  1. Maitland Daily Mercury, 24 June 1914, 5

  2. Ibid. 

  3. Ibid. 

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.

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Barrier Miner, 6 July 1914, 3

Australia has never had much to do with airships. In recent decades you might be able to catch a glimpse of an advertising blimp or a camera drone. You have to go back many decades to find anything else, and what you do find didn't amount to much. There would have been airship bases in Melbourne and Perth by the late 1930s, if the R101 disaster hadn't brought down the Imperial Airship Scheme with it. Early recruitment for the Royal Australian Air Force included jobs for airship riggers, whose skills were never needed. In 1909, mystery airships were seen around Australia, but they were phantoms. And as far back as 1851, William Bland, a Sydney doctor, designed and patented an 'Atmotic Ship', supposedly capable of flying to London in a week and a half, but it was never built.

So here's another to add to the list, though it's a bit more successful than the others, since not only did it exist, as you can see in the photo above, but in 1914 it actually flew. It's the first, and I think the only, airship designed and built in Australia. Its creator was electrical engineer Alban Roberts (on the left in the photo), who was New Zealand-born and raised, but in the years before the First World War moved back and forth between there and Australia, Britain, and the United States.1 From 1909 he was in Britain working on wireless control of boats, subs, aeroplanes and airships. By 1912 -- after an interlude in America, during which he crashed an airship into the Atlantic while attempting to fly from New York to Philadelphia -- he had perfected a remotely-piloted dirigible well enough to demonstrate [in music halls], much as Raymond Phillips had already done before him. He publicly demonstrated this drone back home in Wellington in 1913, where it 'dropped a tiny bomb of confetti' on a marked spot.2

A few months later, he was across the Tasman in Sydney building his full-size airship, 'the first Australian constructed one [...] constructed as far as possible of Australian material and by Australian hands. The only part which was imported was the balloon section, which it was found could not be made in Australasia.'3

The 'Nacelle,' or framework which carries the engines and propellor is 48ft. by 2ft. 6in. Mr. Roberts does not regard his vessel as much more than a model. Its engine is 15-h.p., and its speed in calm weather is 16 miles an hour. 'I would have to treble my engine power,' says Mr. Roberts, 'to get another five miles an hour out of my little ship.'4

Indeed, the airship itself was not the point: it '"has the pull as a spectacle," said Mr. Roberts, "but the wireless is the big thing."'5

Still, Roberts seems to have had plans for his airship:

Later, the airship will take up its occupation as a pleasure craft. Passengers will then be able to sail gently over Sydney and about the harbour. The ship may also be used at night as an advertising hoarding.6

It took more than 70 years for airships to be used for advertising in Australian skies, and I don't think paying customers have ever been able to take dirigible joyflights here. But Roberts' airship did fly, as I will discuss in another post.

Image source: Barrier Miner (Broken Hill), 6 July 1914, 3.


  1. See generally H. R. Everett, Unmanned Systems of World War II (MIT Press: 2015), 266-8

  2. Dominion (Wellington), 25 November 1913, 10

  3. Ibid., 7 July 1914, 8

  4. Ibid. 

  5. Ibid. 

  6. Ibid.