A bit of aerial theatre from Dan Todman's (excellent) Britain's War: Into Battle, 1937-1941:

Newton Abbot, Devon, February 1941. The town is holding its War Weapons Week to promote the National Savings movement. It has been set the aim of increasing savings by £100,000 during seven days. To publicize the event, local organizers arrange a fly-over by RAF bombers from a nearby airbase. They drop 10,000 advertising leaflets, with instructions about how to take part in the savings drive. Each is headlined 'THIS MIGHT HAVE BEEN A BOMB'. Whether this is a plea or a threat, it works: Newton Abbot smashes its target, with £216,000 invested by the time the War Weapons Week ends.1

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a picture of one of these leaflets, or evidence of their use elsewhere in Britain, but the same phrase was used in other leaflets dropped on Hamilton in Ontario, Canada, in the very same month, by a member of the local aero club as publicity for War Savings Certificates:

War Savings Certificates leaflet

The leaflets dropped on Newton Abbot may have been something similar, though the message here is obviously slightly different ('help destroy Hitler's murderous bombers ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ATLANTIC') -- and would be different again when dropped on Reedsburg, Wisconsin, in January 1944 by the Civil Air Patrol ('Join the Womens' Army Corps') and when dropped on Los Angeles in December 1951, again by the Civil Air Patrol ('These could have been REAL BOMBS! EVEN A-BOMBS!') A little bit of aerial theatre travelling a long way.

  1. Daniel Todman, Britain's War: Into Battle, 1937-1941 (London: Allen Lane, 2016), 603. The source is given as TNA, NSC 7/78, 'War Weapons Weeks: Items of Special Interest'. 

Peter J. Beck. The War of the Worlds: From H. G. Wells to Orson Welles, Jeff Wayne, Steven Spielberg and Beyond. London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. A history of the novel, its context and its influence, mixing in biography, literary and film (and radio) criticism as well. Takes in everything from the London Necropolis to The Battle of Dorking to the (supposed) panics caused by various radio adaptations.


The Next War in the Air

2016 has been a terrible year in many respects, but finally there is some good news for everyone! Well, for everyone who wants to buy a copy of my book, anyway; because in January 2017 The Next War in the Air will be republished in a much cheaper (if not quite cheap) paperpack edition.

To backtrack a bit, in July 2015 Ashgate, my publisher, was acquired by Taylor & Francis. This caused a bit of angst at the time, not least because some good publishing people were going to lose their jobs, but also because nobody was sure what was going to happen to the various books and series published by Ashgate, now and in the future.

The dust has cleared a bit since then. Ashgate seems to no longer exist, even as an imprint. Some people did lose their jobs, though, happily, the ones I worked most closely with did not. My book was republished (I suspect just in ebook format) earlier this year by Routledge, the main humanities imprint of Taylor & Francis, which was nice (I've always liked Routledge). On the other hand, the price of the hardcover was put up to a whopping £100. Compare that with Ashgate's original price of £70, which was not exactly cheap either. As Ashgate rarely seemed to do paperback editions for their history monographs, and as The Next War in the Air was hardly a publishing sensation (ha!) I didn't think one was going happen (which was why I put the PhD thesis that formed the basis of the book online for free).

So I was pleasantly surprised when for some reason one day I clicked onto the Routledge page for my book and noticed a forthcoming paperback edition, scheduled for publication on 9 January 2017. Even better, the list price is only £34.99, just over a third the cost of the hardback and almost affordable. If you hunt around the usual sources (Booko is good for this), you might be able to find it for even less.1 Maybe this edition will even make it into real live physical bookshops? A boy can dream...

  1. In fact, as I write Routledge is selling it for only £26.24, though I don't know how long that will last. 

Robin Archer, Joy Damousi, Murray Goot and Sean Scalmer, eds. The Conscription Conflict and the Great War. Clayton: Monash University Publishing, 2016. A solid set of essays covering the Australian conscription debate from its political and philosophical origins to the way it has been remembered. The selling point for me was the comparative section, with one chapter by John Connor asking why conscription was a harder sell in some English-speaking countries than in others, and another by Ross McKibbin more closely comparing the issue in Britain and in Australia.

Lloyd Clark. Blitzkrieg: Myth, Reality and Hitler's Lightning War - France, 1940. London: Atlantic Books, 2016. Argues that the role of armour and airpower in the Fall of France has been exaggerated and that infantry was key (though it still can't avoid having that diving Stuka on the cover). More of a military history than Julian Jackson's excellent The Fall of France (2004), while similarly suggesting that a German victory was by no means inevitable.


Yesterday there was quite a bit of activity on Twitter in response to the following tweet:

Yes, it's our old friends, the wooden bombs! A number of people linked either to me or to one of my posts on the topic -- the first one trying to pin down the reality of the story in response to a Snopes debunking, the second one reviewing Pierre-Antoine Courouble's book which, for my money, did just about do that, and the third one passing on an appeal from Jean Dewaerheid, Peter Haas and Courouble for further eyewitnesses, which, as far as I know did not eventuate. From time to time these get linked from Reddit or some listicle site, making them probably the most popular posts on Articles, but it's all heat and no light. However, the Twitter discussion did uncover one new source of information which would seem to confirm the origin of the wooden bomb story as a British psychological warfare operation.
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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...


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


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?
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  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


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.