Friday, 28 February 1913

This post is part of a series post-blogging the phantom airship scare of 1913. See here for an introduction to the series, and here for a conclusion.

Manchester Guardian, 28 February 1913, p. 7

On the one hand, there are more mystery airships reports (many old but some new) in today's papers than ever before, mostly in the provincial press. On the other, some editors seem to have grown weary of the subject: for example, whereas both the Daily Express and the Standard have carried multiple articles on the subject all this week, today they don't mention it at all. Newspapers which do still discuss the scareships (and there are many) are more likely to have a sceptical tone: the Dundee Evening Telegraph records that 'With regard to the Hull vision, a correspondent who has been making investigations is unable to find one responsible observer who takes the airship view', and that 'Inquiries at Ipswich failed to reveal any confirmation of the airship theory' (p. 2). This may be an effect of the increasingly assertive scepticism of the Daily Mirror and others over the past few days, but it might also have something to do with the discovery of a wrecked fire balloon on the Yorkshire moors. As The Times reports (p. 5):

An under-gamekeeper, named Walter Moore, in the employment of Colonel Longdale [sic], of Houghton Hall, two miles south of Market Weighton and about 14 miles from Selby, found a fire balloon on Houghton Moor on Sunday morning. He paid his first visit to Market Weighton for several days on Tuesday, and had not heard of the rumours which associated the lights which had been seen in the district with foreign airships. He then stated that the balloon was the size of 36-galloon cask and just like those sent up at galas. The cover was marked in blue and yellow stripes, and the fuse when found did not appear to have been long extinguished. The balloon was half-deflated and was resting against a small hillock. He completed the process of deflation, and wrapped up the cover and took it home. It is thought that the light of this balloon may have been that seen on Friday evening.

The Manchester Guardian reports this discovery, and also prints a letter from E. G. Herbert of Manchester along the same lines:

I was passing along Moseley Road, Fallowfield, about three weeks ago at 6 30 p.m. when a lad excitedly called my attention to 'an airship.' There was a bright light in the sky about 20 degrees above the horizon and almost due south from where I was.

My first thought was: 'It cannot be an aeroplane because it moves too slowly; it cannot be an airship because there is no hull visible.' It certainly was not a planet. I doubt if it could have been mistaken for one even if it had been stationary, but the most noticeable thing about it was its steady movement to the right, exactly that of a drifting balloon. During the five minutes or so that I watched it its position changed from south to west-south-west, and it became perceptibly dimmer and more distant.

I concluded that the light was carried by a toy balloon which had probably been sent up by someone wishing to enjoy himself at the expense of the 'jumpiness' of his fellow citizens.

Grahame-White, 'the famous aviator', has also suggested that (as quoted by the Dublin Freeman's Journal, p.6, which is itself quoting the Evening Standard) that 'the reports of lights in the sky seen in different parts of the country might be due to the work of a practical joker sending up fire-balloons'.

However, Grahame-White admits that is 'quite possible' that 'one or other of these [foreign] airships to have flown over and returned in safety'. He is, after all, promoting his 'scheme to organise military airships' with 'an elaborate organisation of air stations all over the country, and particularly around the coast', so it's not in his interests to downplay the possibility too much. The usual position is to insist that whether the mystery airships are real or not is immaterial: as the Manchester Courier says 'it does not matter where the various lights at night in different parts of the country have come from; what does matter is the security of this country' (p. 7). So too does the Daily Mail suggest that (p. 7)

Though no single account of the supposed appearance of a foreign airship over England during the last few days can be accepted, the persistence and ubiquity of the reports demonstrate that the country has at last awakened to the vast importance of aerial craft, and to the present entire defencelessness of Great Britain.

The Globe thinks that even though 'the lights in the sky which have recently caused so great a trepidation throughout the country have done much to rouse us from our apathy, but far better still would be the appearance of a dirigible -- a Zeppelin for choice -- in broad daylight' (p. 5).

But there are also still those prepared to commit to the reality of at least some of the airships. Some of them, apparently, are at the Admiralty, according to the Aberdeen Journal (p. 7):

Information as to the appearance of the airship has been furnished to the Admiralty by the coastguard at Hornsea, and the testimony is accepted as definite proof of the airship's presence.

'There can be no question about it,' an official of the Admiralty stated on Wednesday. 'It was a dirigible, and it was carrying lights. We have definite reports from the coastguards there, who watched its movements for some time, and their information is regarded as convincing.

'A naval officer informs us that it was a slightly misty day, and the airship could very well have crossed the sea without being observed during the daytime.'

Oddly, the Daily Mail is cited as the authority for this, though it does not appear to be in today's issue. It's possible that the Journal is reading too much into the Admiralty's acknowledgement in yesterday's Mail of having received the coastguard's reports of an airship at a time when no British airships were in the air, but the quoted statements did not appear there. Perhaps they were added in a later edition, but then it seems odd that no other papers found this revelation interesting enough to reprint.

And now for the scareship reports themselves. From the island of Sanday in the Orkneys (Dundee Evening Telegraph, p. 2):

People in various parts of the island speak positively to seeing the strange craft in broad daylight about five o'clock [on 24 February 1913].

It was a considerable distance off, and some of those who observed it thought it was a flock of birds. But a careful watch satisfied them that in this surmise they were wrong.

The airship proceeded rapidly southwards.

From Hucknall in Nottinghamshire (Manchester Guardian, p. 7):

A constable states that in the morning about two o'clock [on 27 February 1913] he saw an airship showing a powerful searchlight travelling from the direction of Nottingham northwards towards Mansfield. His story was confirmed by a number of colliers leaving a nightshift at Linby Colliery. A similar story is told at Papplewick, a village near by. People there say they watched a light travelling for five minutes, it then disappeared; but a more matter-of-fact police sergeant on duty in the same neighbourhood declares the airship a myth. Speaking to a correspondent, he says: 'I saw a brilliant star to the north. It was very low down, and the clouds drifting rapidly across it gave it the appearance of a brilliant light travelling in the sky.

From Liverpool (Irish Independent, p. 3):

a resident of Seaforth, at about 9.40 last night [27 February 1913], saw a light in the sky which he first took to be a star, but which afterwards, with the aid of glasses, he observed to be moving rapidly past Seaforth, and thence over Crosby to the north-east, ascending gradually all the time. He believed that it was an airship with a large headlight.

From Portland Harbour in Dorset (The Times, p. 5):

An airship is reported to have been seen over Portland Harbour on Wednesday night [26 February 1913]. A postman declares that he saw the clear outline of the airship, which was carrying a dazzling searchlight. It was also seen by a Government official, and the propeller was plainly heard. A night nurse at a residence at Burcleaves says she watched the lights, which were occasionally extinguished, for some time. A coastguard states he saw lights in the sky near St. Alban's Head, and entered the fact in his log-book.

From Sherborne in Dorset (Western Gazette, p. 3):

It is reported in the town that a mysterious airship was seen west of the town passing in a southerly direction about nine o'clock on Monday evening [24 February 1913]. Several persons are stated to have observed the alleged aerial visitor, which, it is understood, was furnished with the necessary search-lights.

And from Montrose in Angus (Evening Telegraph, p. 1):

The appearance of a very bright light to the west of the town last night [27 February 1913] gave rise to some excitement and many wild conjectures concerning the presence of the mysterious airship which has been seen in various parts of the country. The night was hazy, but some assert they saw the form of an aircraft.

Montrose is the site of a new RFC base, the airmen having only arrived this week at the end of a long flight in stages from Aldershot. This afternoon they were formally welcomed by Montrose Corporation by way of 'a cake and wine banquet'; earlier, one of them flew over nearby Dundee:

About half-past eleven a tiny speck was observed away in the south-eastern sky. Gradually it developed until the well-defined lines of an aeroplane stood out distinct against the background of the white sky.

A large number of the citizens caught sight of the aerial visitor, and crowds quickly gathered at various vantage points.

At the Post Office the flight was witnessed by a crowd numbering several hundreds. The evolutions of the machine were followed with great interest. For about a couple of minutes the biplane was in sight, and then it disappeared in the clouds.

This aeroplane does not appear to have been regarded as mysterious at any time; but the report is worth including because it demonstrates just how rare aircraft still are and how enthusiastically people respond to the sight of one flying overhead. The crowds of people who watched mystery airships at Cardiff and Hull probably gathered in much the same way.

A bizarre and barely comprehensible note to end on. The Exeter Gazette has a regular column entitled 'The talk of Uncle Tom Cobleigh', which appears to be a commentary on issues of the day couched in a mock West Country vernacular. Today's piece is called 'Airships an' airyplanes', and inter alia explains the rushed introduction of the Aerial Navigation Act as follows (p. 14; sic throughout):

An' fer wy wiz ther aul thiccy turrifyin' speed, an' haste, an' 'urry? My ivvers, fer vurry gude rayson an' no mistek; fer, in tha dimpse an' in tha nite, 'igh up in tha air, tha dark shapes ov treemenjus gurt Airships hev bin zee'd sailin' an' hovrin' auver ower sayports, ower forts, an' ower harbors. An' thase Airships didn belong tu we, naw, not be no manner ov manes thay didn; thay wiz furriners, an' thay wiz spyin' out tha bestest waay fer tu get untu ower land wi' ther Armies, an' tu blaw up ower forts wi' ther bumbshells, an' tu conqwer we, an' tu du wat they wiz minded tu wi' ower kuntry, ower munny, an' ower kollonies.

Presumably, somebody actually got paid to write this.

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