Books

On Remembrance Day, 11 November 2016, I was privileged to be part of a joint seminar with Dr Richard Scully and Dr Nathan Wise, highlighting the teaching and research we do around the topic of the First World War (Richard is the author of British Images of Germany: Admiration, Antagonism & Ambivalence, 1860-1914, Nathan of Anzac Labour: Work and Workplace Cultures in the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War). Richard provided the context and graciously introduced Nathan and I, who each then gave a short presentation explaining our respective reaearch programmes. You can see the whole seminar above. Nathan went first; the abstract for his part is as follows:

Citizen-soldiers: Contextualising military service during the First World War

For decades, the otherworldliness of the First World War has fascinated Australian historians. Since the 1960s there has been a steadily growing genre of social and cultural histories of military environments. This genre analyses people in the military by the same standards that scholars would otherwise use when assessing people in civil society. What did they believe, how did they behave, how did they relate to each other, how did they actively shape the world around them? Part of this approach is designed to challenge the assumptions of the traditional genre of military history, and to attempt to explore these environments through ‘civilian lenses’. In this talk, Dr. Wise explores how this scholarly approach impacts on research and teaching activities at UNE.

And the abstract for mine (which starts at about the 26 minute mark, but listen to Nathan's too!) is:

Zeppelins and Gothas: The British People and the Great War in the Air

As a cultural historian of aviation, I am primarily interested in the ways that people in the early 20th century thought and felt about the new technology of flight and its incredible potential for changing the world. Over the past couple of years I have focused especially on the Great War, during which aircraft moved from being merely entertainment to efficient and deadly weapons. In this talk, I will outline my current research programme which aims to understand how the British people experienced and interpreted what was then a new and terrible experience: the aerial bombardment of London and other cities, first by Zeppelin airships, then by Gotha aeroplanes. This research has already resulted in three articles and eventually will lead to a book, in what is a surprisingly under-researched field.

As you can see, it's essentially a preview of my next book, or what will be my next book if I ever get around to it...

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Airminded has been very quiet lately, as I was working to a deadline (thankfully met). I didn't even have time to note the books I've been buying, so here they are.

Bourke, Joanna. Wounding the World: How Military Violence and War-Play Invades Our Lives. London: Virago, 2014. The argument is there in the title, the persuasion will be in the detail. Interesting to me for the connections between play, simulation and aerial theatre. Note that Bourke is the incoming Global Innovation Chair in the Centre for the History of Violence just down the road.

Boyce, Dean. Invasion of Sydney: Fears and Counter-measures of an Isolated Colony. Ultimo: Halstead Press, 2015. A history of the various invasion scares, mostly Russian, endured by Sydney in the 19th century (sadly, not the 20th century). The scaremongering effect of simulated naval battles and landings is a surprising and fascinating theme.

Hamilton-Paterson, James. Marked for Death: The First War in the Air. New York and London: Pegasus Books, 2016. Review copy (not for Airminded). Hamilton-Paterson's Empire of the Clouds was a great evocation of postwar British aviation. Here he is tackling a larger topic in a more systematic way. A new history of the First World War in the air would be welcome -- John Morrow's is nearly a quarter of a century old now -- so we'll see if this is it.

Parker, Nigel J. Gott Strafe England: The German Air Assault against Great Britain 1914-1918. 2 volumes. Solihull: Helion & Company, 2016. And sometimes classics are surpassed. I think this will become my new go-to work for the German air raids on Britain in the First World War, replacing Cole and Cheesman's The Air Defence of Great Britain (more than three decades old), though that may still have the edge for air operations, as opposed to the effects on the ground, and some more analysis would have been nice. But it's very comprehensive and well-referenced.

Patrick, Chris and Baister, Stephen. William Le Queux, Master of Mystery. Purley: self-published, 2007. Perhaps surprisingly, the only full-length biography of Le Queux available. A bit patchy, but has some valuable information.

Rid, Thomas. Rise of the Machines: The Lost History of Cybernetics. Brunswick and London: Scribe, 2016. Would you believe that the cyber age began with the attempt to solve the air defence problem? I would! Though that is, of course, just part of the story.

Schneer, Jonathan. Ministers at War: Winston Churchill and His War Cabinet. London: OneWorld, 2015. Some time ago Schneer wrote a book called London 1900: The Imperial Metropolis, which I liked very much. A rather different topic here but a useful one (even if it does mean adding to my library another book with 'Churchill' in the title).

Erik Larson. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. Brunswick and London: Scribe, 2015. Over 200 successful transatlantic crossings, but get sunk just one time and nobody remembers that. Mainly a narrative history but there's nothing wrong with that from time to time. Also, like the next book, it was free (thanks, Richard!)

Lynn Olson. Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in its Darkest, Finest Hour. Brunswick and London: Scribe, 2015. A history of the Anglo-American alliance viewed through the lens of three men who, Olson argues, did most to bring it about: Averell Harriman (head of Lend-Lease), Edward Murrow (CBS correspondent), and John Winant (US ambassador). I'm not sure how necessary these men were, or could have been, to the alliance, but they were certainly signficant in their own right, so it should be worth a read.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Southern Mail/Night Flight. London: Penguin, 1976. I have long wanted to read Saint-Exupéry (not counting The Little Prince). These are his first two novels, based on his experiences as a commercial pilot pioneering air routes across the Sahara and South America; by all accounts some of the most beautiful writing about flying in the golden age.

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NAA: A2023, A38/2/147/677

I ended the previous post in this series with the tease:

In a final post, I will discuss what [Alban] Roberts called his airship, and what it might mean.

That was over two months ago! I think it's time to finally reveal the answer to this question.

According to Errol Martyn, who has written what must be the fullest account of Roberts' career, says that around the time of the airship's tethered test, it was 'patriotically named Australia 1'.1 He gives no source for this name and I couldn't find a reference to it in Trove or elsewhere. In fact, most of the press accounts don't call it anything other than 'the airship' or 'the dirigible'. But not all:

Mr A. J. Roberts's airship, the White Australia, left the Show Ground yesterday under its own gas [...]2

and

The trial flight of Mr A. J. Roberts' airship, White Australia, from the Sydney Showground, ended abruptly on Sunday afternoon.3

I find this extraordinary. Australia's first airship was named for a racist policy of ensuring an Australian nation free from non-Europeans. Why?
...continue reading


  1. Errol W. Martyn, A Passion for Flight: New Zealand Aviation Before the Great War, Volume 3: The Joe Hammond Story and Military Beginnings 1910-1914 (Upper Riccarton: Volplane Press, 2013), 98. 

  2. Sun (Sydney), 5 July 1914, 4

  3. Maitland Daily Mercury, 6 July 1914, 6

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F. G. Brown. Air Navigation Based on Principles and Methods applicable also to Sea Navigation. Sydney and London: Angus & Robertson, 1940. Teaches the same methods successfully used by P. G. Taylor over the Indian Ocean in June 1939! A useful reminder for the non-pilot (i.e. me) of just how much maths is involved in aerial navigation -- this copy even comes with 3 pages of handwritten notes from some poor former owner. As an Australian publication (Brown was late Chief Naval Instructor, Royal Australian Navy and Director of Studies, Royal Australian Naval College), I imagine a few copies of this accompanied Empire Air Training Scheme graduates on their way to Bomber Command.

Stephen Budiansky. Blackett's War: The Men Who Defeated the Nazi U-boats and Brought Science to the Art of Warfare. New York: Vintage Books, 2013. The Blackett of the title is P. M. S. Blackett, a bit of a neglected figure these days. He was awarded the Nobel in physics in 1948 for his work on antimatter in cosmic rays. During the Second World War he was a key figure in the development of operational research, mostly for Anti-Aircraft Command and the Admiralty; he dared to argue that the resources being poured into Bomber Command could be better used elsewhere. Crazy talk.

Martin Woods. Where Are Our Boys? How Newsmaps Won the Great War. Canberra: NLA Publishing, 2016. A gloriously-illustrated book showing how Australians were kept informed (or misinformed) about the progress of the First World War through maps in the press or sold separately. To repeat: glorious.

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Michael North and Davy Burnaby. 'Lords Of The Air'. Sydney: D. Davis & Co., 1939. Thanks, Bart!

Frank H. Shaw. Outlaws of the Air. Glasgow: The Children's Press, 1927. Thanks again, Bart! Shaw was a former naval officer who was also a prolific writer of war stories and science fiction aimed primarily at boys. This particular outing is a throwback to Verne, in fact an aerial version of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, with an incredibly powerful 'mystery airsip' instead of a submarine (called the Avenger, perhaps an allusion to the wreck of the Vengeur which was visited by the Nautilus).

Garry Campion. The Battle of Britain, 1945-1965: The Air Ministry and the Few. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. The Battle as propaganda during the war (most of the book) and memory afterwards. Includes such topics as the 'battle of the barges' and Churchill's 'The Few' speech (Campion still thinks The Few referred to Fighter Command but he does refer to the discussions on this blog).

Isabel V. Hull. A Scrap of Paper: Breaking and Making International Law during the Great War. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2014. Given the prominent claims and counterclaims at the time, surprisingly few books have been written on the use and abuse of international law in the First World War. I'm especially interested in how Hull treats the topic of aerial bombardment, of course, but also in what she has to say about reprisals for same.

Paul Virilio. War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception. London and New York: Verso, 1989. Part of my continuing, if intermittent, attempt to engage with theory. This is little over a hundred pages long and has lots of pictures -- how difficult can it be?

Simon Bradley. The Railways: Nation, Network and People. London: Profile Books, 2015. A social history of the British railway. Trains ain't planes, but I've heard a lot of good things about this book.

Keith Lovegrove. Airline: Style at 30,000 Feet. London: Laurence King, 2013. A fun little book about 20th century airline design, from advertising to cutlery; but it's the cabin crew uniforms from the 1960s and 1970s that catch the eye. Terrifying.

Paul K. Saint-Amour. Tense Future: Modernism, Total War, Encyclopedic Form. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. One of those books that does that worthwhile thing of looking at familiar works in unfamiliar ways. For most readers that will probably mean Virginia Woolf or James Joyce, but in my case it's more the airpower prophets I studied for my PhD/book. I'm not persuaded by the reading of L. E. O. Charlton's books about the knock-out blow in the 1930s as being a betrayal of the humanitarian conscience he displayed over civilian casualties of air control in the 1920s; for me, they are cut from the same cloth. But I look forward to reading Saint-Amour's analysis of Charlton anyway, and of other unexpected gems such as Getrude Bell's description of a Hendon-style mock combat put on by the RAF in Iraq in 1924!

Daniel Todman. Britain's War: Into Battle, 1937-1941. Allen Lane, 2016. Just from reading Dan's (lamented) blog, Trench Fever, as well as his occasional comments here at Airminded over the years, I know that this is also going to be an original version of a supposedly familiar story. Even the periodisation is intriguing, and the second volume will complete the story up to Indian independence in 1947. As this one is more than 800 pages, I'd better get cracking...

Statistically, this was probably bound to happen eventually...

Jeremy Black. Air Power: A Global History. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016. The indefatigable Jeremy Black has produced a small but useful library of short, accessible surveys of sometimes neglected areas of military history. On my own shelves I already have Avoiding Armageddon (2012) on the interwar period, and The Cold War (2015), and now they are joined by this volume on a topic even closer to my heart. All the things you'd expect in such a survey are pretty much here, and he does attempt to look at airpower around the world. Inevitably it's still mostly a Western view. Still, there are a couple of pages on the Iran-Iraq war, for example, a bit over a page on China in the 1930s; but only a couple of sentences on the Chaco War (but what are ya gonna do).

Jeremy Black. Other Pasts, Different Presents, Alternative Futures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015. The indefatigable Jeremy Black has also produced a small but useful library of short, accessible historiographical works. I've got Rethinking Military History (2004) and I did have the previous edition of this book, What If? (2008) -- I'm not sure how they differ, precisely, but the new version is about 20 pages longer and the chapter on counterfactualism in military history, at least, seems to have been largely rewritten. Black thinks that counterfactuals do have value for historians, so it's a good addition to the pile.