Thursday, 2 May 1918

This post is part of a series post-blogging the Australian mystery aeroplane panic of 1918. See here for an introduction or here for a list of all posts.

Sam. R. Dawson, 2 May 1918

NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 33 is a copy of a letter from Sam. R. Dawson, 'Roseneath', Meerlieu, Victoria, to 'The Military Officer' at Sale:

I notice by the papers that persons are asked to report any aeroplanes seen to the nearest military officer.

On the 22nd. March we heard an aeroplane which seemed to be going east but the weather was too cloudy to see it, on the night of 2nd. April, we heard a plane and saw flashes of light at intervals going west on the morning of 4th. April we again saw an aeroplane going West yesterday afternoon [1 May 1918] one passed over also going west and making a tremendous noise such as a motor-car makes when stuck up or has heavy going this was about 4.30 in afternoon and last night 1 a.m. we heard another which seemed to be going east.

In my article, I use this as an example of an aeroplane heard shortly after Constable Wright's encounter at Nyang; in fact, if the date given is accurate then it must have been before his claim hit the press. But Dawson (a grazier) has only reported it nearly six weeks later; hearing and even seeing other aeroplanes in the weeks that followed evidently didn't make him think to tell the authorities about it. So even if he's got the date right, he presumably wasn't very alarmed about it at the time -- that is, did not think it was the enemy -- but also, quite possibly, did not think it was an aeroplane at all until later. It's only this last aeroplane sighting along with a call in the press to report sightings that has prompted him to take action.

Meerlieu (so small it doesn't even get a Wikipedia page) is in the Gippsland Lakes region, near the coast. It seems likely that the last aeroplane seen was the Army's one out searching for raiders: according to NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 488, 'Air reconnaissance report no. 5', it was indeed flying that afternoon and would have been returning from Lakes Entrance to Yarram, along which line Meerlieu lies, roughly (except that according to the flight log at the time specified by Dawson the aircraft was actually over Stradbroke, probably about 50km further along the flight path). The first ones in March and April, however, definitely was not; nor was the one heard in the early hours of this morning. By differentiating between 'real' sightings and 'false' sightings, it might be possible to get a better handle on the role played in these reports by imagination and expectation. Maybe?

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