I'm Dr Brett Holman, a historian living in Melbourne, Australia. My research interests primarily revolve around the place of aviation in British society and culture in the first half of the 20th century. In part this means trying to understand how the British people responded to the threat of strategic bombing, the fabled 'knock-out blow from the air', as well as how they responded to the reality of bombing by German Zeppelins and Gothas during the First World War. I am also very interested in aerial theatre, the spectacular use of aircraft in flight as entertainment, for example in air displays such as the RAF Display at Hendon in the 1920s and 1930s. I'm also a partner investigator on the ARC Linkage Project LP160101232, ‘Heritage of the air: how aviation transformed Australia’.

A book based on my PhD thesis, entitled The Next War in the Air: Britain's Fear of the Bomber, 1908-1941, was published by Ashgate in 2014 (hardback) and Routledge in 2017 (paperback). My peer-reviewed publications cluster around the history of: airpower policy and strategy (the international air force concept, reprisal bombing, the convertibility of airliners into bombers); air panics (1935, phantom airships, mystery aeroplanes, secret Zeppelin bases, air raids and conspiracy theories); and aerial theatre (the militarisation of air displays, the Royal Air Force Display at Hendon, mock air raids). My writing for popular audiences has appeared in BBC History Magazine, Wartime, Fortean Times and Flightpath.

This website began as a place for me to organise thoughts and materials for my PhD in the School of Historical Studies at the University of Melbourne which I started in August 2005, graduating in August 2009. I can also be found at Twitter, Academia.edu and Google Scholar Citations.

Before becoming an academic, I worked in IT at the University of Melbourne. Previously, I trained as an astrophysicist, obtaining a Master of Science by research from the School of Physics at the University of Melbourne in 1998.

30 thoughts on “About

  1. Matthias

    Great webpage. Seems to be far more than a few thoughts already. And has an attractive design.
    All the best,

  2. David List

    Dear Brett (If I may)

    I was looking for something else. (A man called George, of English origin, who holds the MBE for rescue work in connection with the R101 crash. 'Noisy Turf type'. 'Regimental Sergeant Major'. No money at all' Source interrogation of Pierre Culioli of SOE) I haven't yet found him but I came across your site and was diverted by your method, technique and content. So this is just to say thanks for the pleasure of reading your stuff and to tell you, apropos of your post on 'airborne spies of the Kaiser' that parachuting of agents in World War 1 was a British/Italian technique. Tony Wedgewood Benn's (the retired British MP) father was one of the real practitioner's and you will find accounts of his missions in Italy both in the published literature and in files at The National Archives at Kew, UK. Further, in fiction, you will also find a 'Biggles' story 'The Rescue Flight' I think it was called which is based on this. By extension you will also find acounts in the literature, in 'Cross and Cockade' and also, again, the files at TNA accounts of 'the Black Ship' which was an RNAS SS dirigible intended for clandestine night landings and pick ups. I have found no record, as yet of any deliberate, pre-planned, night parachute descents from airships in World War 1 and I have looked quite extensively since there is an account in The Times for the 1930s for 'the world's first pre-planned night parachute descent' completed over Salisbury plain and I'd like to find a prior instance!


    David List

  3. joan shelton nee Mulqueeney

    I was wondering what family the John Joseph Mulqueeney came from that you wrote about, My father and grandfather were both John Edward Mulqueeney from the Gundagai area and I would like to know the connection. regards Joan

  4. Judith Wark

    Do you have any information about Tim Mulqueeney going to Western Australia. My grandfather, William Twomey, was supposed to have travelled to the goldfields in Kalgoorlie with Tim Mulqueeney. My father said that Mrs Tim Mulqueeney and Grandma Denson (my great grand-mother) were sisters.

  5. Brett Holman

    Post author

    Judith, no, I don't know anything about that except that one of Tim Mulqueeney's nephews, Gordon Francis Platt (my grand-uncle, and son of Edward Victor Platt and Elizabeth Agnes Platt, Tim Mulqueeney's sister), was born in Geraldton, which was odd because all of his siblings were born in or near Tumut! Geraldton isn't particularly near Kalgoorlie though, but maybe the goldfields give a clue as to why Elizabeth (at least) was over in WA. (This would have been in 1914 or 1915 -- we think, but the dates are all a bit uncertain for that generation.)

  6. Mark Pippin

    I just ran across your website after searching for Florence Desmond. I was listening to Live365.com radio (station CF Radio -WW II). Her song, "The deepest shelter in town" was on.

    First off, I am a professional pilot with 25 years experience. Also I am an historian and a serious computer type of person and I have been working with computers since the 70's.

    Now, I've read the vast majority of the war materials from pre-WWI through WW2 so I am familiar with the RDF development leading to the Chain Home stations, the great expenditure of men and material in WWI and the resultant exhaustion of France during the 20's and 30's leading to the Maginot line, the air prophets such as Lord Trenchard, America's Billy Mitchell, and Douhet. This time period is such a rich and complicated time.

    I think what comes to mind with the British during this time is the position of the British and the Austrian-German nation state as the world powers of the time. While the British rightfully thought of sea power as primary importance, the continental powers were quicker to take up the new invention of the submarine and the aeroplane. In the end, the superior production and logistical support of America, France, and Britain bled Germany white, thereby forcing an end to WWI and setting the stage for Hitler, the Weinmar Republic, and WW2.

    Between the wars, the idea of "outlawing war" was pushed however Germany had other ideas. Germany knew she could not effectively challenge British sea power directly but airpower could perhaps play a decisive part in any future war as an offensive weapon.

    Germany's rearmament and movies like "Things to Come" thrust airpower and it's destructive force into the public's thinking.

    My view on these subjects is not from the historian's perspective, but more from an airman's view. I know how very difficult it is to find towns, railways, docks (meaning targets) flying at night. It had to be nearly impossible over England during August 1940 with the blackout in place.

    How much fuel do I have? Can I get my Heinkel 111 back to the Pas-de-Calais? What town is that there? Granted it is nearly brainless to fly a jet from point A to point B now with GPS and our other electronic navigation aids, however pilots still look out the windows and try to find points on the ground to use as reference points. It's hard even with the lights on.

    I think Mrs. Miniver would be very happy to know you are writing about her and the thousands of families like her's.

    Please post your thesis. I know people here in the states who would very much like to read it!

    Thank you.

  7. Brett Holman

    Post author

    Thanks for the encouragement, Mark! You obviously have a good handle on the period, and there were more than a few air propagandists who would have agreed with you that Britain's neighbours were much quicker to grasp the potential of airpower than Britain itself was!

    It's an interesting point you raise about the difficulties of aerial navigation, especially as I'm not a pilot myself. One of the ideas I keep coming across is that it would be relatively easy to see the Thames at night (moonlit?), and so it would guide the enemy bombers in to London (or tell them when they were over it). Yet another reason why London and hence Britain was so vulnerable to air attack. But other writers asserted that day bombing was more likely, so the difficulties of night navigation was not such a problem. They were all over the place, really!

  8. Chris Williams

    Brett, thinking of the idea of London's special vulnerability reminded me of the nuking of the Monte Bello Islands. Apparently (it's in _Test of Greatness_) Bill Penney was worried that the most likely form of sneak nuclear attack that Britain would face would take the form of the detonation of a bomb hidden in a cargo ship in the Pool of London. So he made sure that the initial bomb test was set up to provide data on the spread of radioactive contamination following an explosion in shallow water.

    How knockout blow is that?

  9. Brett Holman

    Post author

    Totally, and it's still a concern today of course. I wonder why the Brits would have been so worried about that? I thought maybe the Soviets didn't have any other way to deliver nukes (pre-missile days, just), but by 1949 they did have Tu-4 bombers that could reach London. Maybe there was some confidence in the RAF's air defences, even if they could not guarantee stopping an attack, so they worried more about the attacks they couldn't stop?

  10. October / 2006

    We are interested in learning more about history blogs and in finding ways to promote them. To aid in this effort, we are circulating a small questionnaire and will make the results available in Tapera (in Spanish) and in Digital History Hacks (in English). If you wish to participate, please return the questionnaire to tapera@tapera.info
    Thank you very much.

    William Turkel - Digital History Hacks - http://digitalhistoryhacks.blogspot.com/
    Nicolás Quiroga – Tapera – http://tapera.info

    First post (mm/dd/Y):

    1. Which history-related blogs do you visit most frequently? (1-5)
    2. What factors do you think are involved in your choice of blogs to read? (For example: quality of information, writing, institution, author profile, rankings, entertainment value...)
    3. What factors characterize your own blog? Which are most important?
    4. Have you changed the objectives of your blog since you created it?

  11. leigh


    I only had time to have a quick look at your site but as far as my simple mind can tell it very impressive, although i couldn't help but notice that there is nothing about me on here.

    take care on your travels


  12. leigh

    Hey B,

    when are you leaving? im going out field for a couple of days pretending to be a leader.

    PTE Holman

    signing off

  13. Michael D

    Hi Brett,

    Found your site via LP as I was wondering where you started your physics PhD/Masters.

    Noticed it was in Astro at Melbourne. who was your supervisor? Prof. Rachel Webster? So I guess you got a bit sick of intergalatic dust? ;)

    As you might have noted in the LP thread, i'm currently toying with the idea of a PhD in physics. I'd be going into the MARC/Quantum Computer group with Jeff McCallum.

    oh, and Girish is still teaching GR. exam in a week! yay for riemann tensors and naked singularities!

    all the best.

    Michael D

  14. Post author

    Yes, Rachel was my supervisor, though she wasn't a professor back when I started -- I was actually in her second batch of honours students at Melbourne, and her first batch of postgraduate students, which is to say a long time ago now! I somehow managed to avoid being taught by Joshi in my physics career; when I took GR it was taught by the late (and lamented!) Geoff Opat. Which was a joy, actually, certainly compared to the two QMs ...

    I think MARC is a good choice (aside from the specifics of project and supervisor, of course); they always seemed to have a strong group identity and supported their students well. Much like Astro actually. Anyway, good luck!

  15. Brett, if you are still looking into breaking the 1902 barrier, there is a pretty detailed hack incorporating the AdoDB Date time Library in this forum thread. It's an old thread though, so the versions they are talking about are out of date. Still, it's the only option I've seen.

    Incidentally, AdoDB support is currently listed in the ideas section. If you are interested in this happening, you might want to go and put your two cents in.

    xx La

  16. Post author

    Thanks! I may well look into that, if I ever do get around to expanding the scareships site. It's been pretty dead for the last couple of years though ...

  17. haneen

    um im using one of your pictures for an assignment
    i went on google and found it, its the one with many people wearing gas
    masks. when i went through your webpage i couldnt find the picture. so to use it in my assignment i need to know what and who are the people in the picture.

    if you could give me that information that would be great! thanks

  18. Catherine Purvis nee Platt

    Brett, I'm not sure if other comments I made went through, I'm new to this thing,incase not I have details about the Platt /Mulqueeney family if you are interested,my father was Gordon Francis Platt. Catherine

  19. Brett,
    I have just found your answer to me, re Roy
    connolly, (I'm a bit of a dud at this internetting). I have sent you a comment which I hope you receive, and will be back in touch.

  20. Here's a strange, maybe, question for you, but are you the same Australian fellow who not only has a strong interest in aviation but who also had a strong interest in British Universal Pattern saddles?

  21. Post author


    I can honestly say I have no interest in any kind of saddles! But I think you know me from the WWII mailing list which I've been on for a long time, though I haven't posted in years.

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