3 Comments

Peter Adey, Mark Whitehead and Alison J. Williams, eds. From Above: War, Violence and Verticality. London: Hurst & Company, 2013. A collection of essays on the aerial view and how it has changed war. While there is a lot of historical detail in here, most of the contributors to this volume are geographers, rather than historians. (Which is fine, depending on how they use the history.) One of the exceptions is Priya Satia's piece on the invention of aerial surveillance by the RAF in the Iraq Mandate (incidentally, illustrated with photographs of air control in action as seen on this blog). Other essays which look particularly interesting include James Robinson on 'airmindedness and camouflaging of Britain's oil installations, 1936-9' (admittedly, any use of the word airmindedness is going to draw me in...), affect theory and morale bombing (Ben Anderson), the invention of aerial photomosaic mapping as applied modernism (Paul Saint-Armour), and 'the balloon prospect' (Caren Kaplan).

Alexander C. T. Geppert, ed. Imagining Outer Space: European Astroculture in the Twentieth Century. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Astroculture, which is a term coined by Geppert in this context, 'comprises a heterogeneous array of images and artifacts, media and practices that all aim to ascribe meaning to outer space while stirring both the individual and the collective imagination' (8). It also has obvious parallels, continuities and overlaps with airmindedness. Indeed, while aviation doesn't feature prominently in this book I can see some connections with my own interests: for example, in Geppert's insistence that for astroculture science fiction and science fact are complementary, not contradictory (in my book, I argue the same with respect to the knock-out blow theory); in the interest of the contributors in UFOs, including an essay by Pierre Lagrange on sociology and ghost rockets (a transitional point in the evolution of UFOs from mystery aircraft to extraterrestrial spacecraft), and the participation of Guillaume de Syon, who I know of as the author of Zeppelin! (2002) but here writes on space travel in French-language comic strips. Other topics include the Tunguska event (Claudia Schmölders), Space: 1999 (Henry Keazor), Arthur C. Clarke (Thore Bjørnvig), von Neumann machines and SETI (Gonzalo Munévar), the Pioneer plaques (William Macauley), East Germany and von Braun (Michael Neufeld), changing science fictional uses of Mars (Rainer Eisfeld), and space and imagination (Stephen Dick, author of the brilliant The Biological Universe).

Alastair Gordon. Naked Airport: A Cultural History of the World's Most Revolutionary Structure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. The author is an architectural critic, so the focus is largely on airport terminals and to a lesser extent airport design generally. Most of the book concentrates on the pre-1970 period; in fact there's a gratifyingly chunky chapter on the pre-1930. Lots of great contemporary illustrations, including architectural sketches of never-built airports, but I'm also going to complain here that they are too small and and a bit murky, and also that they tend towards showing off the architecture rather than how they were actually used. But I suppose that goes with this territory.

David Seed, ed. Future Wars: The Anticipations and the Fears. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2012. Though it's not described as such, this is almost a posthumous festschrift for I. F. Clarke: it's published by the same press that brought out most of his histories of the wars to come, it opens with his 'Future-war fiction: the first main phase, 1871-1900' and ends with a checklist of his writing. In between there are essays on On the Beach (Brian Baker), John Wyndham (David Ketterer), Iain M. Banks (Patricia Kerslake), (again!) changing science fictional uses of Mars (Robert Crossley), and the uses of future-war fiction in modelling risk after 9/11 (Michael Matin).

Gary Sheffield and Peter Gray, eds. Changing War: The British Army, the Hundred Days Campaign, and the Birth of the Royal Air Force, 1918. London: Bloomsbury, 2013. Yet another edited collection. As the title suggests, this has essays on relatively uninteresting things to do with the British Army in 1918, if you like that sort of thing, as well as three on aspects of close air support in the same period (David Jordan, Simon Coningham, Alistair McCluskey), two on the origins of the RAF (Gray, Christopher Luck), and one on the role of aviation logistics (Peter Dye).

Dietmar Süss. Death from the Skies: How the British and Germans Survived Bombing in World War II. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Review copy (not for Airminded). I'm looking forward to reading this comparative study of the experiences of the British and German people under aerial bombardment. It's very much from the ground view, not the aerial one: there are chapters on such thing as shelter life, religion, morale, the postwar memory and debates, and the prewar imagination of bombing; topics covered include children at war, rumour, just war, mourning, and reconstruction. I think there's still room for an analytical history of the Blitz, but this weighs in at nearly 550 pages, excluding endnotes, etc; so half of that amounts to a reasonable-sized book on the bombing of Britain, and in fact the comparative dimension should prove highly illuminating.

8 Comments

The Next War in the Air

My book, The Next War in the Air: Britain's Fear of the Bomber, 1908-1941, is getting closer to being real. In June, in just three months, it will be in the bookstores. Soon the indexing will be undertaken. Yesterday I made the final corrections to the text, and shortly I'll receive the page proofs from Ashgate, for last-minute error checking. And it has a draft cover design! Which I must say I am rather pleased with.
...continue reading

3 Comments


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.
...continue reading

6 Comments

Ron Gretton, Geoff Matthews and James Kightly. Bristol Boxkites at Point Cook: Commemorating the Centenary of Australian Military Aviation 1914-2014. Werribee: Project 2014, 2014. In 1995 a group of volunteers decided to build a flying replica of the first Australian military aircraft, a Bristol Boxkite. It first flew late last year, and flew again at the Centenary of Military Aviation 2014 Air Show held at Point Cook just last week -- appropriately, since the centenary being marked is that of the first Australian military Boxkite flight, which took place at Point Cook in 1914. This is a handsome and well-illustrated volume covering the origins and history of the Boxkite, including that historic first flight, as well as the construction and first flight of the replica, now part of the RAAF Museum's collection. You can order a copy from the Boxkite 2014 website; I got one for free because James Kightly AKA JDK was part of the project, and asked me to do some research on how the first flights were reported in the Australian press.

2 Comments

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.
...continue reading


  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. [Correction: Horrall, Popular Culture in London, 93.] 

  8. The Times, 21 June 1913, 10. 

Richard Lamb. The Drift to War: 1922-1939. London: Bloomsbury, 1991. A narrative history, based on some archival research, of British diplomacy with respect to the German problem (there are only two or three chapters on period before Hitler, so don't be misled by the 1922 in the subtitle). Unsurprisingly unfavourable to Chamberlain, from the looks of it. A freeby.

I got back yesterday from a very successful trip to Singapore, where I attended The British Empire and the Great War: Colonial Societies/Cultural Responses conference, organised by Michael Walsh (Nanyang Technological University) and Andrekos Varneva (Flinders University). Since the conference was extensively livetweeted, I thought I'd forgo my usual post-conference report and instead Storify the #EmpireWW1 hashtag. While I've included tweets from the other livetweeters (Ashleigh Gilbertson, Jo Hawkins, Steve Marti, and Alexia Moncrieff), I've used only those about the sessions I actually attended myself. So it's still sort-of my view of the conference. There are keynotes by John MacKenzie, Hew Strachan (with bonus airpower), Tim Barringer, and Jay Winter; mystery aeroplanes, Zeppelins, air control, and the destruction of the Turkish 7th Army; various asides and interruptions; and Eric Bogle!
...continue reading

2 Comments

Antony Taylor. London's Burning: Pulp Fiction, the Politics of Terrorism, and the Destruction of the Capital in British Popular Culture, 1840-2005. London and New York: Continuum, 2005. A conference purchase, and an instant one for me after seeing the title. Oddly from my perspective, as far as I can tell it omits almost the entire corpus of knock-out blow fiction; but I think this is explained by the focus on stories about terrorism carried out by non-state actors. So aerial anarchists in fact do get some attention, and the Blitz of course factors as inspiration. But then, Hugh Addison's The Battle of London (1923) appears only as a red scare novel, which it certainly is; but the massive aerial bombardment which does the actual destruction is not mentioned. (Admittedly, it only gets a few sentences plus an illustration.) But that is just my perspective; there's plenty of value in this approach, which also enables the incorporation of fictional attacks by fascist and Islamic terrorists.

3 Comments

Peter Rees. Lancaster Men: The Aussie Heroes of Bomber Command. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2013. I must admit to hesitating over buying this, mainly because of the presence of the word 'heroes' in the title. But I understand that the author didn't have a say in the matter and is a bit embarrassed about it, so I relented. It's largely anecdotal in nature, being largely based on interviews and memoirs. Nothing wrong with that, but hopefully one of these days somebody will write a more analytic study of Australia and Bomber Command.

1 Comment

[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.
...continue reading


  1. Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 15 February 1915, 6.