For what?

Abolish all war aeroplanes

I found this pro-disarmament poster on eBay (at US$1985, I won't be buying it!) The text reads:

THE TRANSPORT OF THE FUTURE.
FOR WHAT?
DEATH AND DESTRUCTION
OR
FRIENDSHIP AND PEACE
Abolish All War Aeroplanes

This is the seller's own description:

An incredibly rare original vintage anti-war poster circa 1938 in fine condition, archivally mounted on acid-free paper and linen-backed. Measures 28 1/2 x 18 3/4 inches (63 x 48 cm). Fine condition or nearly so (A). Lightly toned, a few repaired closed short tears from edges (clearly shown in photos). A few minor instances of printer overpainting in the letters. Possible light stain or mild abrasion to image area. Generally in fine condition. Produced by the Friends' Peace Committee, Friends House, Euston Road, London NW1 and the Northern Friends' Peace Board, Spring Bank, Rawdon, Nr. Leeds, England, and printed by H.W. & V. Ltd., London.

I doubt that it's as late as 1938, as claimed by the seller. A biplane is a bit (though not completely) old-fashioned for 1938, for a start. Katherine Firth suggested that the font is more late 1920s/early 1930s. And the poster's message doesn't make much sense for 1938, when disarmament was no longer realistic. Not that pacifists are always realistic, by any means; but the connection that is drawn between civil and military aviation, between the possibilities of 'death and destruction' through 'war aeroplanes' and 'friendship and peace' through aerial 'transport of the future' is very suggestive of 1932-34, when the World Disarmament Conference debated and tried, unsuccessfully, to resolve precisely this nexus -- usually considered to be the commercial bomber. That said, these two groups (both affiliated with the Society of Friends, i.e. the Quakers) do seem to be separating out civil aviation from military aviation, arguing that a simple ban on military aircraft would save civilisation from destruction and allow it to benefit from air travel. It was more perhaps usual to argue that the internationalisation of civil aviation in some form was required in order to prevent airliners from being turned into bombers, with a further step being the internationalisation of military aviation as well. I can't find any reference to this poster in BNA but a quick search does confirm that the Friends' Peace Committee and the Northern Friends' Peace Board were fairly vocal in 1933-35, for example writing an open letter to the prime minister in 1933 warning against starting aerial rearmament while the Geneva conference was still in the balance, and in 1935 deploring the inevitability of attacks upon civilians implicit in the initiation of air raid precautions.1 The poster is at least evidence that they tried to persuade the public (or some sector of the public) of the aerial danger too.


  1. Sunderland Echo and Shipping Gazette, 14 December 1933, 7; Western Daily Press (Bristol), 14 May 1935, 8

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7 thoughts on “For what?

  1. Fascinating, not seen this before. The aircraft is very definitely meant to be a Hawker Fury I. (It's not either a generic type, or a composite of differing types, as is common in this type of commercial artwork.) The Hawker Hornet, effectively the prototype Fury, flew in 1929, the Fury entered service in May 1931, and was heavily publicised and high profile in the early period of its service. So that matches the poster's proponent's peak!

  2. Post author

    Thanks -- always nice to have converging lines of evidence! I did it pick it as part of the Fury family, but (honest question) can it definitively be pinned down as a Fury I? Fury IIs were in frontline service until 1939. I thought a Hind more likely from the context, since the concern was much more about bombers, even day bombers, than fighters; but even then there's a danger of assuming aeronautical knowledge on the part of the artist -- yes, it's a relatively realistic depiction of a real type, but they might have just copied it from an old copy of Flight, rather than trying to work out what an up-to-date RAF bomber should look like.

  3. It looks to me like someone's taken an image of a Fury and turned it into a screenprint - be interesting to track the original image down. As an aside, the reverse-outs of the strut endings on the port are the only bits that don't fit the aircraft's exact look, or the design's own perspective. The artist's also got muddled with, I suspect, background, in the mess under the rear fuselage.

    Having edited a book on the Fury family and another on the Hart family, it's hard to explain all the details evident to me as to why it's definitely a Fury I, but start with the proportions of the fuselage, the Fury's distinctive humped back, and things the artist has kept like the exact position of the tailskid and the distinctive bulged kink on the nose over the front of the Kestrel's port rocker cover. The wing configuration (span, dihedral difference, strut type, chord) is less usual that you'd think, and thus distinctive. The radiator housing is evident when you know where it is, but isn't needed for the design. I could go on.

    Not a Hart family member as there's one head visible. (And no fuselage shape change for the gun ring, or ring, or gun - the latter would spoil the message of course, though.)

    The Fury II had spats.

    The Fury was highly recognisable at the time thanks to a lot of media coverage on early service, far out of proportion to its use. How far-later that might trail into being depicted in a case like this, I couldn't say, but it gives us a definite not before date. I agree with your thinking as to when the poster would have no real credibility, so that puts us in 1931-35 bracket.

  4. Jukka Keränen

    Incidentally, I have just been looking at what contemporaries wrote about Huxley’s 'Brave New World', published in 1932, and the following may be of interest here.

    When Bertrand Russell reviewed 'BNW', he wrote Huxley’s utopia was likely to come true without a world government that would get rid of ”the world’s armies and navies, forbid the construction of aeroplanes even for commercial purposes”. (Quoted by John G. Slater in his introduction to Russell’s ’A Fresh Look at Empiricism: 1927–42’.)

    I assume Russell believed the very existence of aircraft would lead to the kind of war that, in turn, had led to the setting up of the World State in BNW. This seems highly ironical, given Russell's demand for a world government to prevent the outcome.

    I completely agree with JDK that the aircraft in the poster is a Hawker Fury.

  5. Wow JDK. I shouldn't be surprised, and I'm sure there are random IDs of shapes of various bits of kit that I could pull off, without always being able to explain why I was fairly sure I was right.
    I have been glad over the past couple of days that the various Sopwith replicas in NZ have different coloured wheels, it makes IDing them in my photos at odd angles somewhat faster!

  6. Post author

    Wow, I really have been slack in replying to comments lately...

    JDK:

    Thanks -- having seen the photo in question (which is here), I agree it's almost identical. The prop's at a different angle (and in motion here), that's the biggest difference I can see.

    Jukka:

    Thanks for that -- I wrote a bit about the aerial warfare aspects of Brave New World here. Yes, Russell seems here to be proposing an extreme version of commercial bomber danger -- that airliners could be turned into effective bombers, and so the existence of commercial aviation was a grave danger to civilisation even if the world was otherwise completely disarmed. I've published articles on this idea and the related international air force concept, here and here.

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