The previous post ended with this photo, and another very similar one, which Getty Images dates to 17 October 1917 with the caption 'Moses Shackman, centre, with members of the Jewish East End Shelter Corps. Their hats are labelled in Yiddish and English':

Raid Shelter Corps, 1917

As I noted, the hatbands actually say (in English, at least), 'RAID SHELTER CORPS'. This turns out to be a somewhat mysterious organisation, but I think I've managed to track it down.

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Michael McCluskey and Luke Seaber (eds), Aviation in the Literature and Culture of Interwar Britain

I've got a chapter entitled 'Spectre and spectacle: mock air raids as aerial theatre in interwar Britain' in a new Palgrave Macmillan collection just out, Aviation in the Literature and Culture of Interwar Britain, edited by Michael McCluskey and Luke Seaber. 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.

It's my third article pushing the aerial theatre concept, and it builds on both of its predecessors ('The militarisation of aerial theatre' and 'The meaning of Hendon'). Here I narrow my focus specifically to mock battles, particularly those portraying air raids on civilian targets. But I also widen things out by drawing a distinction between what I call formal aerial theatre, meaning the sorts of air displays I usually write about such as the RAF Display (Hendon) and Empire Air Day, and incidental aerial theatre, in this case mainly meaning the annual ADGB exercises from 1927 onwards, as well as, beginning in 1936, ARP drills. 'Incidental', because while the point of these exercises was to determine the effectiveness of air and civil defences, they also involved RAF aircraft carrying out simulated attacks on actual urban targets in a very public and spectacular fashion. Those living in and around these targets were exposed to this aerial theatre whether they wanted to be or not. In fact, many people came out to watch these exercises as entertainment: in 1928, for example, 'omnibuses took parties of sightseers to the hills around London' to watch their city get theoretically pounded to rubble.1 Which I found quite fascinating, and so I wrote a chapter about it!
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  1. Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 14 August 1928, 5. []

Sunday Post, 12 May 1935, 14

I recently came across a few more examples from 1920s and 1930s newspapers of the 'Red Baron' being used in reference to Manfred von Richthofen, which I suggested undermined my argument that, in essence, we call him that because of Snoopy. But instead of shrugging my shoulders I decided to get my data on and dig into some numbers. And they confirm my original conclusion: that Richthofen was not called the Red Baron during his lifetime, and it's only from the 1960s on that it became almost impossible to call him anything else.
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Wreck of the Hindenburg

Alexander Rose. Empires of the Sky: Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men's Epic Duel to Rule the World. New York: Random House, 2020.

The two men of the title both led a great aviation enterprise. Both dreamed of spanning the world with their passenger aircraft. Both struggled at times, and prospered at others. But one was outlived by his company, while the other died knowing that his life's work had been reduced to ashes. The former was Juan Terry Trippe, the head of Pan American Airways (PAA; better known as Pan Am) from 1927 to 1968; the latter, Hugo Eckener, who ran Luftschiffbau Zeppelin and DELAG, the Zeppelin airline, after the death of Count Zeppelin in 1917.1 Both wanted to span the world's continents and oceans by air: Trippe championed aeroplanes as the best way to do this; Eckener, obviously, airships. We all know how that turned out, but well-known stories are often worth revisiting because, well, you don't always know what you thought you did. And so Alexander Rose -- who is perhaps best known as the author of Washington's Spies, which was turned into a successful television series, but wrote his PhD on British air defence policy in the 1930s -- has written a thoroughly researched, fully referenced, hugely informative and compellingly readable account of the struggle for the future of civil aviation.
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  1. Citing a newspaper obituary, Wikipedia claims that Trippe got his first name from 'the Venezuelan wife of his great uncle'. But according to Rose he was actually named after his mother's stepfather, Juan Terry, a Venezuelan millionaire. Trippe hated his name and his non-WASP family connections; the fact that PAA's empire began in Latin America was a coincidence. []

East Melbourne Historical Society Newsletter, June 2016, 7

When we first met N. R. Gordon, it was in Sydney in 1894 and he was preparing a steam-powered ornithopter for flight. When we last saw him, it was 1900 and he was filing a patent application for a human-powered ornithopter. Here he is again, in May 1907, this time at Footscray in Melbourne's west, attempting another 'experiment with a flying machine':

The body consisted of a small canvas boat on two pneumatic-tyred wheels, and had four great white canvas wings, each 17ft 6in in length. The flying machine was hitched on by a rope to a motor car, which, when all was ready, set off at full speed. The flying machine, which carried no passengers, of any kind, rose gradually about a foot from the ground, but when apparently about to soar off to the sky the wings carried away, being too fragile to stand the strain.1

I think that is the machine pictured above, which has the tires though maybe not a 'boat'2 It seems quite different to the Chowder Bay machine, chunky rather than spindly.
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  1. Singleton Argus, 14 May 1907, 3. []
  2. From Sylvia Black, 'Dreaming the impossible dream', East Melbourne Historical Society Newsletter, June 2016, 7; she doesn't refer to the photograph and it doesn't appear in any of the sources she cites. []

On Wednesday, 27 May 2020, I was privileged to give a seminar to the Contemporary Histories Research Group at Deakin University on my aerial theatre research -- via Zoom, as is the current fashion. I really enjoyed giving it, and I think it was a great success (and thanks to everyone who listened in and especially those to took the time to ask questions). Because the seminar pulls together some of the different things I've been working on in some kind of coherent way, I wanted to make it available to a wider audience, and so yesterday I post-tweeted my own seminar. And to make it less (?) ephemeral, now I'm embedding the entire 51-tweet thread here in a blog post. It is of course very much a condensed version of what I said, but it's always surprising how much of the essence gets through in tweet form. (Well, I understand what I'm trying to say, but then I would, wouldn't I?)

The seminar title is 'History from below, looking up: aerial theatre, emotion and modernity'. The abstract is:

In the early 20th century, the aeroplane was the symbol of modernity par excellence. Technological change is an essential part of this sense of modernity, and few technological changes have been as dramatic or as unmistakable as the conquest of the air. For the first few decades of the twentieth century, flying was the object of intense popular fascination, and yet few people actually flew themselves, even as passengers, before the tremendous expansion of aviation during and after the Second World War. Even so, their experience of flight was often intensely exciting, since one of the most common ways to encounter flight was through seeing it, as an aviation spectacle in the form of aerial theatre such as air displays and air races. People flocked to aerodromes in their cumulative millions to watch aircraft in flight, performing aerobatics or fighting mock battles. This was a mass form of popular culture, which explicitly and implicitly made claims about the present and -- even more so -- future ability of technology to change the world, for better or for worse. In this talk I will sketch out an emotional history of aerial theatre, focusing on how it helped to construct popular ideas about modernity, primarily in Britain and Australia.

[tweet id="1265825214488707074" conversation=false]
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In the previous post I looked at Nigel Biggar's use of the Berlin Airlift and Richard Hillary in his paean to the RAF. Now I will look at his other argument in Providence, that 'In the past 100 years then, the Royal Air Force has made a vital contribution to the military defense of the West'. By this he means the Battle of Britain, of course:

The early phases of the battle saw mere handfuls of fighters throw themselves against hundreds of German bombers. Without their victory, Hitler's military would have probably overwhelmed Britain's resistance, and America’s subsequent struggle would have been immeasurably more difficult. Fighting for Europe from England proved hazardous enough in 1944; trying to retake it from the far side of the Atlantic would have been almost impossible. Hence Winston Churchill's famous remark, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

Again, it's easy to quibble (Fighter Command was hardly down to 'mere handfuls' of aircraft, for example, and whether Britain could have been successfull invaded is extremely doubtful), but I absolutely agree that the British victory was a Good Thing.
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Critical Survey has just published an early access version of my peer-reviewed article 'William Le Queux, the Zeppelin menace and the Invisible Hand' -- that's right, no subtitle! -- here. Here's the abstract:

In contrast to William Le Queux's pre-1914 novels about German spies and invasion, his wartime writing is much less well known. Analysis of a number of his works, predominantly non-fictional, written between 1914 and 1918 shows that he modified his perception of the threat posed by Germany in two ways. Firstly, because of the lack of a German naval invasion, he began to emphasise the more plausible danger of aerial attack. Secondly, because of the incompetent handling of the British war effort, he began to believe that an 'Invisible Hand' was responsible, consisting primarily of naturalised Germans. Switching form from fiction to non-fiction made his writing more persuasive, but he was not able to sustain this and he ended the war with less influence than he began it.

Unfortunately the publishing agreement doesn't allow me to upload a green open access version of the article for 24 months, but it's based on a post I wrote here a few years ago about Le Queux's wartime spyhunting in Soho and Surrey, so you can get a flavour by reading that. The expanded version includes more of Le Queux's conspiracy theorising, placing it in the context of his wartime literary output and the evolution of 'Hidden Hand' conspiracy theories on the British far right in the First World War.
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Sea, Land and Air (Melbourne), February 1920, 765

Although the war had been over for more than a year by this point, in 1920 the editor of Sea, Land and Air issued a rather hysterical warning of the danger of foreign pilots being allowed to fly in Australia.1

The passenger-'plane of to-day may be the bomber of to-morrow. It depends on the man who owns the machine, and the one who flies it, upon whom she will drop her bombs. If he be an Australian it is pretty certain that he will not let them fall on his own countrymen. At present there is nothing to say that the man who is learning to fly here, or the man who is going to own the machine for him to fly, shall be even a British subject. In certain parts of Australia it is reasonably probable that he will be a German, for instance.

Australia is quite big enough to offer concealment while the alien airmen replaces passenger seats by bomb-racks. Unless there is control of flying, every possible enemy of Australia can be an aircraft-owner here.2

Hence the need for 'Regulations that insist that no aliens may either fly or own aircraft in Australia'.3 What's going on here?
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  1. Sea, Land and Air has been digitised in its (near?-)entirety and is freely available from American Radio History, which credits the National Library of Australia for the scans although they're evidently not in Trove. []
  2. Sea, Land and Air (Melbourne), February 1920, 732. []
  3. Ibid. []

Eric Thake, Vimy flight stamp, 1969

Michael Molkentin. Anzac and Aviator: The Remarkable Story of Sir Ross Smith and the 1919 England to Australia Air Race. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2019.

[Disclaimer: Michael is a friend of mine. But I wouldn't have agreed to review his book if I wasn't confident, based on everything else that he has published, that it was going to be excellent. And I was right.]

Anzac and Aviator is a new biography of Ross Smith, the first Australian aviation pioneer to find global fame.1 This fame rested largely on just one flight in 1919, but it was a truly epic one: the first flight from Britain to Australia. At around 18,000 km, it was the longest to date (albeit carried out in stages, unavoidably). Despite being accompanied by his older brother (and fellow pilot), Keith, Ross -- it's hard to avoid using first names in this review! -- was the driving force behind the flight. With the centenary of the flight this December almost upon us, this biography is timely.
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  1. With the possible exception of Harry Hawker. []