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Yesterday there was quite a bit of activity on Twitter in response to the following tweet:

Yes, it's our old friends, the wooden bombs! A number of people linked either to me or to one of my posts on the topic -- the first one trying to pin down the reality of the story in response to a Snopes debunking, the second one reviewing Pierre-Antoine Courouble's book which, for my money, did just about do that, and the third one passing on an appeal from Jean Dewaerheid, Peter Haas and Courouble for further eyewitnesses, which, as far as I know did not eventuate. From time to time these get linked from Reddit or some listicle site, making them probably the most popular posts on Articles, but it's all heat and no light. However, the Twitter discussion did uncover one new source of information which would seem to confirm the origin of the wooden bomb story as a British psychological warfare operation.
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Portable airship hangar, Farnborough

Exactly three years ago I was visiting the National Aerospace Library at Farnborough, the historic home of British military aviation going back to 1904 through the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Cody's first flight, and the Army's Balloon Factory. The site now seems to consist largely of a series of business parks -- though the famous air show is still held here, along with the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust and several large ex-wind tunnels. One of other the remaining remnants of Farnborough's aviation heritage can be seen above: the British Army's portable airship hangar (sans canvas), dating originally to 1912.
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On Remembrance Day, 11 November 2016, I was privileged to be part of a joint seminar with Dr Richard Scully and Dr Nathan Wise, highlighting the teaching and research we do around the topic of the First World War (Richard is the author of British Images of Germany: Admiration, Antagonism & Ambivalence, 1860-1914, Nathan of Anzac Labour: Work and Workplace Cultures in the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War). Richard provided the context and graciously introduced Nathan and I, who each then gave a short presentation explaining our respective reaearch programmes. You can see the whole seminar above. Nathan went first; the abstract for his part is as follows:

Citizen-soldiers: Contextualising military service during the First World War

For decades, the otherworldliness of the First World War has fascinated Australian historians. Since the 1960s there has been a steadily growing genre of social and cultural histories of military environments. This genre analyses people in the military by the same standards that scholars would otherwise use when assessing people in civil society. What did they believe, how did they behave, how did they relate to each other, how did they actively shape the world around them? Part of this approach is designed to challenge the assumptions of the traditional genre of military history, and to attempt to explore these environments through ‘civilian lenses’. In this talk, Dr. Wise explores how this scholarly approach impacts on research and teaching activities at UNE.

And the abstract for mine (which starts at about the 26 minute mark, but listen to Nathan's too!) is:

Zeppelins and Gothas: The British People and the Great War in the Air

As a cultural historian of aviation, I am primarily interested in the ways that people in the early 20th century thought and felt about the new technology of flight and its incredible potential for changing the world. Over the past couple of years I have focused especially on the Great War, during which aircraft moved from being merely entertainment to efficient and deadly weapons. In this talk, I will outline my current research programme which aims to understand how the British people experienced and interpreted what was then a new and terrible experience: the aerial bombardment of London and other cities, first by Zeppelin airships, then by Gotha aeroplanes. This research has already resulted in three articles and eventually will lead to a book, in what is a surprisingly under-researched field.

As you can see, it's essentially a preview of my next book, or what will be my next book if I ever get around to it...

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Airminded has been very quiet lately, as I was working to a deadline (thankfully met). I didn't even have time to note the books I've been buying, so here they are.

Bourke, Joanna. Wounding the World: How Military Violence and War-Play Invades Our Lives. London: Virago, 2014. The argument is there in the title, the persuasion will be in the detail. Interesting to me for the connections between play, simulation and aerial theatre. Note that Bourke is the incoming Global Innovation Chair in the Centre for the History of Violence just down the road.

Boyce, Dean. Invasion of Sydney: Fears and Counter-measures of an Isolated Colony. Ultimo: Halstead Press, 2015. A history of the various invasion scares, mostly Russian, endured by Sydney in the 19th century (sadly, not the 20th century). The scaremongering effect of simulated naval battles and landings is a surprising and fascinating theme.

Hamilton-Paterson, James. Marked for Death: The First War in the Air. New York and London: Pegasus Books, 2016. Review copy (not for Airminded). Hamilton-Paterson's Empire of the Clouds was a great evocation of postwar British aviation. Here he is tackling a larger topic in a more systematic way. A new history of the First World War in the air would be welcome -- John Morrow's is nearly a quarter of a century old now -- so we'll see if this is it.

Parker, Nigel J. Gott Strafe England: The German Air Assault against Great Britain 1914-1918. 2 volumes. Solihull: Helion & Company, 2016. And sometimes classics are surpassed. I think this will become my new go-to work for the German air raids on Britain in the First World War, replacing Cole and Cheesman's The Air Defence of Great Britain (more than three decades old), though that may still have the edge for air operations, as opposed to the effects on the ground, and some more analysis would have been nice. But it's very comprehensive and well-referenced.

Patrick, Chris and Baister, Stephen. William Le Queux, Master of Mystery. Purley: self-published, 2007. Perhaps surprisingly, the only full-length biography of Le Queux available. A bit patchy, but has some valuable information.

Rid, Thomas. Rise of the Machines: The Lost History of Cybernetics. Brunswick and London: Scribe, 2016. Would you believe that the cyber age began with the attempt to solve the air defence problem? I would! Though that is, of course, just part of the story.

Schneer, Jonathan. Ministers at War: Winston Churchill and His War Cabinet. London: OneWorld, 2015. Some time ago Schneer wrote a book called London 1900: The Imperial Metropolis, which I liked very much. A rather different topic here but a useful one (even if it does mean adding to my library another book with 'Churchill' in the title).

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White Australia and the Empty North (1909)

The previous post in this series was supposed to be the last. But in the course of taking two months to write it, I managed to forget about another, earlier association between a White Australia and an Australian airship. This one wasn't a real airship; it was a fictional one which appeared in Randolph Bedford's 1909 play, White Australia; or the Empty North -- effectively an Australian version of Guy du Maurier's An Englishman's Home. Does this shed any light on Alban Roberts' 1914 airship, White Australia?
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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).