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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John E. Gurdon, The Sky Trackers

This is the frontispiece illustration from John E. Gurdon, The Sky Trackers (London: Frederick Warne & Co., 1931). Gurdon was an RFC ace (28 victories, all in Brisfits) and after the war took up writing aviation adventure stories so he could discharge a bankruptcy. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph, noting that 'Columbus, setting out in a sailing ship to traverse an unknown world, had no greater possibility of adventure ahead of him than have the children of the aeroplane age', called The Sky Trackers 'a breathlessly exciting and a very well written yarn of detective work by aeroplane in the Far East, [which] will certainly get hold of anyone who reads it'.((Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 10 December 1931, 4.))

The painting itself is by S. Drigin, a Russian émigré who seems to have done quite a few aviation-themed illustrations in a career mainly spent working in the pulp and comic industries. The (non-crashing and burning) aeroplane is identified in the text as a 'Weare Wolf two-seater' ('low wing cantilever monoplane, 275 h.p. Typhoon engine, cruising speed 125 m.p.h., carries fuel for seven hours, climbs like a lift, and is as nippy as a dragon-fly').((John E. Gurdon, The Sky Trackers (London: Frederick Warne & Co., 1931), 3.)) It looks to me to be somewhere between a Bernard 20 and a Bernard H.V. 120 (which was entered in the Schneider Trophy the year Sky Trackers was published), but I'm open to suggestions!

PS Thanks again to Bart Ziino for the book -- attending the AHA is getting to be almost worth it alone for the aviation treasures he finds for me!

Sphere, 1 March 1913, 223

'In the future, every historian will be relevant for 15 minutes', as somebody once said. Here's my 15 minutes, an interview with journalist Connor Echols for Responsible Statecraft on the parallels between the 1913 phantom airship panic and the 2023 spy balloon panic. As I've been busy with other things and have had to watch take after hot take flash by (most interestingly from my point of view was Jeff Sparrow in the Guardian invoking another interest of mine, balloon riots), I appreciated the opportunity to think about what I do think (if that makes sense!)

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Pearson's Weekly (London), 28 January 1909, 615

In September 1909, rather late in Invasion's run, an article appeared in Pearson's Weekly explaining not only some of the pyrotechnical mechanics behind the spectacle, but also the underlying airpower theory. Because it was not merely an popular entertainment and a commercial one at that, but a response to the question 'Invasion by aeroplane, is it possible?'((Pearson's Weekly (London), 9 September 1909, 204.))

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Postcard, 1916

While you're waiting for me to write Home Fires Burning, here are some other books (mostly) on the same topic, whether wholly or in substantial part. This is not meant to be in any way a comprehensive list; it's merely what I have found to be most useful. I've included links to out-of-copyright/open access versions, where available.

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Walter Bayes, The Underworld: Taking Cover in a Tube Station During a London Air Raid (1918)

Last night I had my first full-on anxiety dream about nuclear war since the 1980s. As ICBM trails arced across the blue sky overhead, I ran for the safety of a nearby shelter -- and confirmed that the Third World War had started by getting out my phone to check my social media feeds.

Of course, I'm quite safe here in Australia. It's not my home town which is being shelled by Russian artillery, not my family which is being killed in Putin's unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine. The risk of escalation is not non-zero, but would be increased dramatically if the calls from some quarters for a no-fly zone -- in some ways, an ad hoc kind of international air force -- were heeded. But, despite the dreams of liberal militarists, airpower is not a bloodless panacea; air war always has been real war. It's not a cheap way to avoid fighting. Fortunately everybody with a direct say in the matter seems to be well aware that a NATO no-fly zone over Ukraine would be a very bad idea indeed. So, I probably should be able to sleep easier than I am. But there's a very interwar kind of trauma involved in reliving an existential fear all over again. We've all been here before, again.

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Graphic, 15 May 1915, 609

So I'm writing a book. Why? There are already many histories of the German air raids on Britain in the First World War: in my proposal, I listed eleven published since the 1980s alone, and even that is hardly exhaustive. Many of these are excellent -- Ian Castle's books, in particular, are required reading on this topic -- and I would not add to the pile unless I felt I could add something original. So what will make Home Fires Burning different? Why should anyone want to read it? Here's the (lightly-edited) rationale I gave in my proposal:

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Graphic, 24 April 1915, 518

I am delighted to announce that I have signed an advance contract with Cambridge University Press((Founded in 1534. Just sayin'…)) to publish my next book, currently entitled Home Fires Burning: Emotion, Spectacle, and Britain’s First War from the Air, in their Studies in the Social and Cultural History of Modern Warfare series. Here's a one paragraph teaser from the (successful!) book proposal:

Home Fires Burning is the first book to provide a broader understanding of the German air raids on Britain between 1914 and 1918—the first to go beyond the purely physical impact of the bombs to show how the spectacle they created and the emotions they invoked shaped British culture and society. It describes not only what happened during the air raids, but also what happened before them, and after, how they were anticipated and how they were remembered. And it will explain how bombing transformed Britain from a place of peace to a place of war: a home front in a total war.

So Home Fires Burning will be both a logical extension of my previous work, and something quite original (and, I think, very necessary!) I'm busy completing the manuscript, and I'll have much more to say here about my plans and progress over the next couple of years. There's a lot to do; I'd better get on with it!

Image source: Graphic (London), 24 April 1915, 518.