Father Neptune and the American girl

Neptune feels a draught

This whimsical illustration, showing Father Neptune beset by all manner of aerial pests, appeared in Murray F. Sueter's Airmen or Noahs: Fair Play for our Airmen; The Great 'Neon' Air Myth Exposed (London: Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1928), opposite 410. Sueter had been a technically-minded naval officer (torpedoes, airships, armoured cars, tanks and of course the first head of the Royal Naval Aerial Service). After retiring with the rank of rear-admiral (albeit an unemployed one), he won election to the House of Commons (succeeding Noel Permberton Billing, and with his blessing) as an independent, but soon joined the Conservatives.

Airmen or Noahs is, in part, an attack on Neon's attack on the airminded. (Defence was not Sueter's style, just as it wasn't Neon's.) But it's also an attack on the Admiralty, and all those boat-obsessed 'Noahs' who preferred battleships to bombers, for being shortsighted in relation to aviation: hence this drawing, 'Neptune feels a draught'. From page 410:

Father Neptune has raised some sturdy sons, but even he is beginning to see, as he watches the transatlantic flights, that they are not the only pebbles on the beach.

A piece of doggerel (I assume by Sueter himself) accompanies the drawing, pointing to the problems airpower posed for the navy, but also how it could also help control the seas:

Shiver my shiny scales!
These bird-men maketh a draught!
They have stolen my trident!
And broken the barb.
And my Crown and Kingdom are threatened.
Unless I rouse myself
I am undone.

Boat ahoy! Boat ahoy!
Good old Noahs!
Take Aphrodite and mermaids too.
For I intend to fly with Ruth
Around the seven seas,
And thus control my kingdom
With efficiency, speed and ease.

And Ruth? Who is Ruth? The picture gives a clue. To the right of Father Neptune sits an aviatrix on the wing of a sinking aeroplane, waving an American flag. She must be Ruth Elder, who attempted in October 1927 to become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Her aeroplane -- the American Girl, which she flew from Florida with her flight instructor, George Haldeman -- suffered engine trouble near the Azores and ditched in the ocean. She and Haldeman were extraordinarily lucky to be rescued by a passing freighter. (See here for a vastly amusing collection of contemporary opinions on her flight.)

That Sueter has Father Neptune say he intends to fly with a woman may be a reference to the suspected identity of Neon (a woman who didn't think much of flying at all). But I'm not sure why he singled out Elder, an American, for this honour. He refers in the text to 'Miss Ruth Elder and Captain Halderman's [sic] very fine effort' (410) as part of a long list of aviation feats which attracted the interest and admiration of thousands and tens of thousands of people, whom he invited to join him in laughing at the 'Earthbound Noahs' (411) like Neon who thought aviation pointless and impractical. But the list also mentions Lady Bailey and Lady Heath, two British aviatrices of the day, so he could have chosen them instead of Elder. Perhaps I'm cynical in suspecting he didn't think them pretty enough, but the attention paid to the likes of Amy Johnson and the New Zealander Jean Batten the following decade does tend to support this line of thought.

Hmm, how did I end up here?

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