Author Archives: Brett Holman

About Brett Holman

Brett Holman is a historian who lives in Armidale, Australia.

John Llewellyn Rhys, The Flying Shadow

John Llewelyn Rhys, The Flying Shadow (Bath: Handheld Press, 2022).

John Llewelyn Rhys, England Is My Village and The World Owes Me a Living (Bath: Handheld Press, 2022).

John Llewelyn Rees was born on 7 May 1911, got his pilot's license on 4 July 1934, and was killed in a flying accident on 5 August 1940. Those bare life events hardly stand out among the airminded young men of his generation. But as well as flying, Rees wrote (albeit as John Llewelyn Rhys). His two novels, The Flying Shadow (1936) and The World Owes Me a Living (1939), and a handful of short stories, collected as England is My Village (1941), are suffused with -- drenched in, might be a better phrase -- a love of flying in all its pleasures and perils. It's because of this that he bears some comparison as the English-language equivalent of the slightly older Frenchman Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Certainly, passages like these are rare in contemporary British aviation writing:

Below, the clouds were flat as beaten snow, dazzling white in the brilliant sunshine, undisturbed except for the shadow of the Moth which slid easily, silently, over their even surface. For scores of miles there was no movement, nothing but the sunny emptiness of the sky and the hard, white floor of the clouds, the enormous silence pricked by the stutter of the engine. For the hundredth time the beauty of such a scene hooded his mind, the sense of overwhelming desolation intensifying his realization of individuality. Nothing in the world, he thought, was as lonely as this, no scene so static in beauty, so expansive in monotony.1

Or:

We flew on for hour after hour, seeing nothing of the earth but the peaks of mountains standing up through the clouds, the only other moving thing our shadow which raced silently beneath us, following every curve of the clouds with effortless grace. Above was the dome of heaven, a nightmare blue except for the blazing ball of the sun, no trace of cloud to break its pitiless emptiness. The one sound in our ears was the roar of the engines mingling with airscrew thrash. We were alone, racing through a dead world.2

These convey beautifully a sense of the sublime nature of flight, its awesome majesty and terror, intensified at every point by the ever-present possibility of death (possibly a little exaggerated; surely Rhys sensed the 'inarticulate lust for the blinding novelty of a crash' among readers just as much as spectators).3

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  1. John Llewelyn Rhys, The Flying Shadow (Bath: Handheld Press, 2022), 39.[]
  2. John Llewelyn Rhys, England Is My Village and The World Owes Me a Living (Bath: Handheld Press, 2022), 237.[]
  3. Rhys, England is My Village, 122.[]

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Ferris Bueller in his dressing gown with the meme text "YOU'RE STILL HERE? IT'S OVER. GO TO BLUESKY"

After 14 years and 7 months, I've deleted all of my Twitter/X accounts.

The best place to find me now (other than here!) is Bluesky:

But you can also find me on Mastodon:

NB: the code for my bots can be found on Github: trovebot-mastodon2 and ttaships.

Twitter has been both fun and useful for me. I don't know if it's going to survive, but it's getting much less fun, it's getting much less useful, and it's definitely getting much too fascist. I'm sorry to lose touch with the people I've made friends with there over the years, but I hope to see them elsewhere. And I'm not at all sorry now to be gone from Twitter.

Bystander, 17 August 1938, 277

After thirty-six (!) months, 'Spectre and spectacle: mock air raids as aerial theatre in interwar Britain', my chapter in Michael McCluskey and Luke Seaber, eds., Aviation in the Literature and Culture of Interwar Britain, is now available for a free download under green open access (in this case, pre-copy editing). Here's the abstract:

This chapter argues that aerial theatre, in the form of annual air displays at Hendon and on Empire Air Day, was used by the Royal Air Force (RAF) to generate a sensationally modern image of technological sublimity through violent spectacles of aerial warfare, including the performance of mock air raids. This was amplified by a second, incidental kind of aerial theatre, performed as part of Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB) exercises and air raid precautions (ARP) drills in the form of mock air raids on British cities. These attracted curious and even excited audiences, conscious that they might be seeing previews of their own deaths. In combining spectre and spectacle, the RAF’s mock air raids underscore the ambivalent nature of airmindedness in interwar Britain.

You can read a bit more about what's in the chapter, or you can just go ahead and read the whole thing.

Image source: Bystander, 17 August 1938, 277.

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The world is a bad place right now, and a lot of that has to do with bombing civilians. And it's impossible for me to look at the news from Gaza, or from Ukraine, and not think of my own current book project on the bombing of British civilians in the First World War. But I don't know whether what's happening now makes my history more necessary, or more inadequate. It hardly seems comparable. I just don't know how to think about it.

So instead, I made some AI art.

A street in a bombed city. A giant bull with a human mouth bellows in pain as a crowd ignores it
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