Art.IWM PST 13758

The ostensible purpose of the Air Services Exhibition was to raise money for 'the FLYING SERVICES HOSPITALS' and 'VISCOUNT FRENCH'S WAR CHARITIES', as you can see in the poster above. But those laudable aims didn't mean it wasn't also propaganda (as you can also see in the poster above). And, despite the name of the exhibition, it wasn't about the RFC and RNAS generally, but about the air defence of Britain. Not only did the exhibits consist largely of Zeppelin destroyers and destroyed Zeppelins (and Gothas), but two senior members of Britain's military aviation establishment gave speeches at the opening of the exhibition on 1 November 1917, which as it happened was the morning after a Gotha raid on London, Kent and Essex. Unsurprisingly, they both spoke on the topic of air defence.

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Globe, 3 December 1912, 15

A great image found by @100YearsAgoLive of 'bombing by wireless' in 1921:

The question of aerial armaments will be discussed at the Washington Conference, and it is as well for us, while hoping for the best results from the conclave of the nations, to realise some of the terrifying developments in aerial warfare to which scientists are devoting attention. Shown here is a flying bomb, fitted with small wings and a motor, which can be steered by wireless so as to drop on the desired objective. One has only to remember the work done by wireless-controlled boats in the War, to realise in the flying bomb a terrible weapon, the construction of which, at all costs, must be avoided.((Globe (London), 3 December 1921, 15.))

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Herald (Melbourne), 12 January 1924, 24

After its early showing in the 1909 mystery airship wave, Australia was rarely visited by phantom airships proper. Maybe that's because real airships were even rarer, with none that I know of between 1914 and the late twentieth century: they just weren't a very plausible thing to think you saw. But they did turn up sometimes.

There was one in Western Australia in 1910, another in 1918, and a relatively famous one on 10 June 1931 between Lord Howe Island to Jervis Bay. That last one was seen by Sir Francis Chichester while making the first east-west solo flight from New Zealand to Australia -- though he seems to have only reported it decades later, and even then stopped of short of claiming it actually was an airship. In 1925, another phantom airship was seen, more definitely but equally incongruously, at Myall, near the Murray River in northern Victoria.

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Recently I've been playing around with AI-generated images. This is far less impressive than it may sound: there's a small community on Twitter and elsewhere doing this stuff already, many using scripts and tutorials which mean you don't need any more skill than the ability to log in to Google Colab, type in some keywords and hit execute. The particular AI model I'm using is VQGAN+CLIP. The AI doesn't 'know' anything about anything, to begin with, but (as I understand it) it trains from a huge image dataset drawn from the internet (imagenet_16384 seems to work best for me) and uses the associated text metadata to iteratively generate images which could be described by your keywords. You can also try starting from (or aiming towards) a selected image (which I haven't tried yet). I let them run for 500 iterations which seems to be enough to converge to something stable.

The results are usually almost, but not quite entirely, unlike whatever it is that you have in mind: not so much an uncanny valley as a whole uncanny landscape with uncanny hills, uncanny trees, uncanny streams, and uncanny clouds. (Actually it does very well with clouds.) I've got a thread going on Twitter of mostly aviation-related images; here are some that I find interesting.

A phantom airship

The first prompt I tried was 'a phantom airship'. And it's pretty good! Like any good phantom airship, meaning is in the eye of the beholder, but to me that looks something like an airship floating over an impressionistic grand house with trees, mountains and clouds.

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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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Duprée and Ashley, Britannia Must Rule the Air

This stirring scene is the cover for the sheet music for a song published in 1913, Britannia Must Rule the Air, written by Frank Duprée and composed by Charles Ashley. It shows a reasonable (if stubby) approximation of a Zeppelin in the process of being destroyed by gunfire from two aeroplanes, a Farman-type biplane and a monoplane.

The lyrics are a little more subtle:

When wooden walls and straining sails bore Britain's flag afar,
The Nation prospered well in peace and feared no foe in war,
For Britain's might was ev'rywhere and ruled the endless waves,
Proclaiming to the world at large 'we never shall be slaves.'

And when the ironclad replaced the ships that caught the breeze
Britannia still retained her throne up on the charted seas,
For frowning fleets and giant guns outnumbered two to one
The navies of all other lands beneath the sov'reign sun.

And now that ev'ry cloud conceals a lurking bird of prey,
Which threatens our supremacy in peace and war today,
Britainnia must be equal to the peril and prepare
To hold our Empire sacred from these dreadnaughts of the air.


Britannia must rule the air
As still she rules the sea,
To guard this realm beyond compare
And keep her people free.
Britannia, Britannia must like the eagle be;
Britannia, Britannia must rule both air and sea!
Britannia, Britannia must rule both air and sea.1

The message is clear enough: just as Britain's naval superiority has kept it safe from the Napoleonic Wars through the ironclad era to now, so must it have a superiory aerial superiority to safeguard its freedom in the new century. This was exactly the comparison and the message of the Navy League in response to German aerial superiority, as supposedly revealed by the phantom airships supposedly seen flying all over Britain.2
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  1. Frank Duprée and Charles Ashley, Britannia Must Rule the Air (London: Laurence Wright Music Co., 1913). []
  2. Brett Holman, 'The phantom airship panic of 1913: imagining aerial warfare in Britain before the Great War', Journal of British Studies 55, no. 1 (2016): 99–119 (free). []


Resuming from where I left off with Modern Wonder -- here are some rather fantastic French and British 'battle planes' from the cover of the 23 April 1938 issue. I've never seen these designs before and I'm sure they never got off the drawing board -- if, that is, there was even any drawing board at all and it's not just massive artistic license. [Update: of course I was wrong! Jakob quickly identified both aircraft in the comments. The French one is an Arsenal-Delanne 10, which did in fact fly (though not until 1941); the British one is an Airspeed AS.31, which did not. On Twitter, Francois Soyer and AusterityAirliners also got one apiece.]

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For nearly four years from May 1937, Modern Wonder (Modern World from March 1940) was a British weekly magazine, priced at 2d. and aimed at, presumably, boys and young men who were interested in high technology, big machines and vehicles that go really, really fast -- sometimes fantastical, but mostly real, if on or near the bleeding edge. There don't seem to be any full issues online, but you can get a feel for the content at Blimey!, and from the issue indices (and the covers!) at Galactic Central. Every issue seems to have been filled with battleships, spaceships, airships, etc. So, something like the American Popular Mechanics or Modern Mechanics , etc, or a more down-to-Earth Electrical Experimenter. Which is interesting, because this publishing niche wasn't filled to anything like the same extent as in the United States.

The covers, which I'm looking at here, are similarly both quite vivid but not quite as over-the-top as their American equivalents. Of course, a significant number (though not the majority) were aviation-themed. The above, from the 19 May 1938 issue, showing an unmarked Armstrong Whitworth Whitley tangling with a balloon barrage, is reminiscent of Dare-Devil Aces, but unfortunately (for me, anyway) is the only battle scene I can find. Here are the other covers featuring aviation prominently, along with the title of what seems to be the relevant story (which doesn't always exist). Feel free to jump in and tell me where I'm wrong!
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Jimmy Raynes, 'Australia has promised Britain 50,000 more men'

Heavy rains are finally starting to extinguish the distastrous bushfires that covered a last part of eastern Australia during the last couple of months (and of course, bringing floods). Back while they were still burning, James Raynes tweeted a series of images he adapted from Australian recruitment posters from the First World War, which I think lampoon the state of right-wing climate politics in this country rather brilliantly:

The reason why they're so clever is that they subvert denialist arguments against effective climate action by redeploying them against Australia's most sacred myth: Anzac. The above image, for example, points out that on the argument that Australia's carbon emissions are so much smaller than those of the United States or China that reducing them will make no difference, then logically we shouldn't have bothered sending our tiny army against Germany's much bigger one, either. Check out Raynes's other images below (the Boer War credits one is particularly amusing).
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