Last year I tried to run to ground the phrase 'England is no longer an island', usually said to be uttered by Lord Northcliffe in 1906 after hearing of an early Santos-Dumont flight.1 But the earliest source I could find which claimed that Northcliffe said it dated to 1922, it only became common in an aviation context after Blériot's cross-channel flight in 1909, and it was anyway used in non-aviation contexts as early as 1846, positively as well as negatively. So I suggested that Northcliffe took a phrase that had been bouncing around in the British public sphere for decades and applied it to the coming of flight. But even so, there's no contemporary evidence that he was the first to do so, or even that he ever did so publicly or influentially. As he was a powerful press baron with a deep interest in aviation it just seems plausible that he must be the origin.
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  1. Based on the accounts of two biographies, one of Northcliffe and one of his aviation correspondent Harry Harper; but the details differ slightly, suggesting they are drawing on different sources. []

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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Sunday News, 30 July 1944, 4

Since this thread received absolutely no love over on Twitter, some lazyblogging of a 1944 article entitled 'Jargon of the skies' by James E. Wellard on RAF and US Army slang, published in the Toronto Star Weekly (via the Perth Sunday Times):

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In my previous post I looked at the phrase 'England is no longer an island' in the British press as an indication of anxiety about the implications of technological progress -- first steam in the 1840s, then the Channel tunnel in the 1880s, and finally aviation in the late 1900s -- for the defence of the nation. Surprisingly, in the 1890s, especially, through to the early 1900s the phrase was also used in a more positive and optimistic way, to suggest that England was now more than an island.
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A long time ago I wrote about the idea that the advance of technology had annihilated Britain's traditional maritime defences. This claim was famously -- supposedly -- made by Lord Northcliffe, founder and owner of the Daily Mail, after seeing Alberto Santos-Dumont fly in France in 1906: 'England is no longer an island'.1 It's so apposite that Alfred Gollin used it as the title of a book and an article about Edwardian aviation politics.2 As I showed, the same sentiment long predated the 20th century and the coming of flight: I found that it could be traced to as early as 1845, when Lord Palmerston, a former foreign secretary, supposed that

the Channel is no longer a barrier. Steam navigation has rendered that which was before impassable by a military force nothing more than a river passable by a steam bridge. France has steamers capable of transporting 30,000 men, and she has harbours, inacessible to any attack, in which these steamers may collect, and around which, on the land side, large bodies of men are constantly quartered. These harbours are directly opposite to our coast, and within a few hours' voyage of the different landing-places on the coast of England.3

Northcliffe's statement, which was made privately to his editor, is surprisingly hard to trace back to a primary source; I don't think I've ever seen one cited. 'England is no longer an island' doesn't appear in the Daily Mail itself, for example, before 1911, and even then it's not even attributed to him, or anyone other than 'When Blériot flew the Channel it was said'.4 The earliest I can find the phrase associated with Northcliffe in the major historical press archives is in 1940:

Our Channel is our Maginot Line, but since Bleriot flew across thirty years ago, Lord Northcliffe was right when he said: 'England is no longer an island.'5

And there's not much after that either.
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  1. Quoted in Alfred Gollin, No Longer an Island: Britain and the Wright Brothers, 1902–1909 (London: Heinemann, 1984), 193. []
  2. Ibid; Alfred Gollin, 'England is no longer an island: the phantom airship scare of 1909', Albion 13, no. 1 (1981): 43–57, doi:10.2307/4049113. []
  3. HC Deb 30 July 1845 vol 82 c1224. I originally found the first part of the quote in I. F. Clarke, Voices Prophesying War: Future Wars 1763-3749 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 20. []
  4. Daily Mail (London), 28 July 1911, 4. []
  5. Cornishman (Penzance), 4 July 1940, 4. []


Popular Mechanics, October 1922

John Ptak asks of this cover from the October 1922 issue Popular Mechanics: 'why?' It's a good question. The accompanying article doesn't really help:

Consider yourself aboard a giant airplane whose whirring propellers rapidly drive from view faint objects on the earth far below. As towns and hamlets recede in the distance you realize that you are fast approaching the one that is your destination, for the captain is giving orders to make ready for the discharge of passengers at one of the intermediate points along the route of the great air liner. The crew unfold from the capacious hold a small air boat, and lower it dangling from the huge hull by its special tackle. You and several fellow passengers climb down into the seats behind the pilot and buckle yourselves in as the big ship slows its engines to enable the little wings to catch the air. With a quick movement of a lever your steersman unleashes the small craft, which begins its motorless flight and gracefully glides downward to a safe landing, while the mother plane speeds out of sight.

It turns out that this was an idea which cropped up repeatedly in the first few decades of flight. But such 'aerial trains' never quite came to commercial fruition. Which suggests that yes, you could indeed consider yourself leaving an airliner in mid-air; but you probably wouldn't want to.
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The lost Gotha of New Farm Park is lost in two senses. Firstly, because I'm fairly sure that it no longer exists. Secondly, because I'm quite sure that it never existed.

Chris O'Regan pointed out on Twitter that 'there used to be a captured German plane in New Farm Park' in Brisbane. This was easy to confirm in Trove; it was offered to Brisbane as a war trophy in 1921:

The Brisbane City Council yesterday agreed to accept a captured German aeroplane offered by the Australian War Museum. Authority was given for the erection of a shelter at a cost of £50, in New Farm Park, on a site to be fixed by the chairman of the Parks Committee and the superintendent of parks.1

But the shelter evidently didn't offer much protection from the elements, because by March 1930 the aeroplane was in poor condition and 'badly in need of reconditioning':

The chairman (Alderman E. Lanham) stated that no financial provision had been made for the work, and while there was some sentiment attached to the capture of the machine it was not a proposal upon which the council was prepared to spend a big sum at present. The committee had agreed to defer the question of repairs until an inspection had been made by the parks superintendent (Mr. H. Moore) and himself.2

The aeroplane was offered to the Queensland Museum -- home to another, unique, war trophy, A7V Mephisto -- which unfortunately had 'no accomodation' for the machine.3 Dismantling began the following January, at which point the Queensland branch of the Australian Flying Corps Association offered to maintain it. The council agreed, but on condition that it was moved elsewhere.4 In June, it was announced that the association had 'offered to recondition the machine and place it in a conspicuous position on the Archerfield Aerodrome', then Brisbane's major (and very new) airport.5 In May 1932 it was said to be 'at present being reconditioned by the [Queensland] Aero Club' -- so not the Australian Flying Corps Association -- 'preparatory to its being mounted at Archerfield aerodrome'.6 I can't find any trace of the aeroplane after that. I suspect it was never placed into any 'conspicuous position' but instead the reconditioning stretched out until it was eventually scrapped, perhaps in 1939 when the RAAF moved in.
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  1. Telegraph (Brisbane), 21 December 1921, 8. []
  2. Brisbane Courier, 26 March 1930, 14. []
  3. Brisbane Courier, 1 October 1930, 14. []
  4. Telegraph (Brisbane), 21 January 1931, 8. []
  5. Telegraph (Brisbane), 6 June 1931, 9. []
  6. Brisbane Courier, 26 May 1932, 14. []


Graphic, 25 May 1918, 631

Manfred von Richthofen is undoubtedly the most famous aviator of the First World War, possibly of all time. But he's not famous by name, so much as by nickname: he is the Red Baron, a reference to his red aircraft and his aristocratic birth. It instantly evokes images of knights of the sky, grappling together in mid-air until one is felled, tumbling to the ground far below. As an example, here's an account from the British press of 'The end of the Red Baron' (with Joseph Simpson's illustration, above):

Cavalry Captain Baron von Richthofen was shot down in aerial combat on the day when the German papers announced his 79th and 80th victories. Boyd Cable writes: 'The Red Baron, with his famous "circus," discovered two of our artillery observing machines, and with a few followers attacked, the greater part of the "circus" drawing off to allow the Baron to go in and down the two. They put up a fight, and, while the Baron manoeuvred for position, a number of our lighting scout machines appeared and attacked the "circus." The Baron joined the mêlée, which, scattering into groups, developed into what our men call "a dog fight." In the course of this the Baron dropped on the tail of a fighting scout, which dived, with the Baron in close pursuit. Another of our scouts seeing this dived after the German, opening fire on him. All three machines came near enough to the ground to be engaged by infantry machine-gun fire, and the Baron was seen to swerve, continue his dive headlong and crash in our lines. His body and the famous blood-red Fokker triplane were afterwards brought in by the infantry, and the Baron was buried with full military honours. He was hit by one bullet, and the position of the wound showed clearly that he had been killed by the pilot who dived down after him.'1

The odd thing is this is the only use of the phrase 'red baron' in the British Newspaper Archive in reference to Richthofen for the entire war -- and even then, it's after his death. Nor have I been able to find it in the other major English-language newspaper archives: Gale NewsVault, ukpressonline, Welsh Newspapers Online, Trove, PapersPast, or Chronicling America. (I can in fact find quite a few mentions of 'red baron' in BNA during the war, but not as anything to do with 'the' Red Baron, or even a person: it was the name of a prize winner at the 1912 Royal Ulster Agricultural Society show, described in 1916 as 'Red Baron, the stud bull in the herd of the Hon. Frederick Wrench, Killacoona, Ballybrack, that has proved such a veritable gold mine for him'.2) Nor does 'red baron' appear in Flight magazine for the war, nor in the 1918 English translation of Richthofen's autobiography Der Rote Kampfflieger, tellingly translated as 'The Red Battle Flyer'.

So if Richthofen was called the Red Baron during the war, as I had assumed and as seems widely to be believed, this practice does not seem to have made its way into the press and so can't have been very widespread. Perhaps it was a nickname bestowed upon him by Allied airmen, though even there something less polite seems more probable. But in any case, Wikipedia's claim that

Richthofen painted his aircraft red, and this combined with his title led to him being called 'The Red Baron', both inside and outside Germany.

needs to be qualified, a lot.
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  1. Graphic, 25 May 1918, 631. []
  2. Aberdeen Press and Journal, 4 September 1916, 7. []

1 Comment

In the last decade or so, it seems to have become a thing to refer to the German air raids on Britain during the First World War as the 'First Blitz'. There are now at least three books on the topic with that title or variations thereof: Andrew Hyde's The First Blitz: The German Bomber Campaign against Britain in the First World War (2002), Neil Hanson's First Blitz: The Secret German Plan to Raze London to the Ground in 1918 (2008), and now Ian Castle's The First Blitz: The Aerial Battle for London in the First World War (2015). There's also Neil Faulkner and Nadia Durrani's In Search of the Zeppelin war: The Archaeology of the First Blitz (2008) and Neil Storey's Zeppelin Blitz: The German Air Raids on Great Britain during the First World War (2015).

There are good reasons for this. The lack of a convenient shorthand or commonly accepted label for the First World War raids is quite irritating when writing about them; and even referring to them as the Zeppelin raids obscures the fact that there were Gotha raids too, a more intense, if also more brief, phase of the campaign. There is relatively little awareness or understanding of the First World War raids, especially when compared with the memory of the (second) Blitz itself, so reusing the name immediately gives a sense of what happened. And the similarities are indeed striking: in my own PhD/book, while I refrain from using 'Blitz' to refer to both I do explicitly compare the way the British responded to air raids in 1917 and 1940 in a structural sense, including the development of civil defence measures and the impulse to carry out reprisal bombing in both periods. Even the 'Blitz spirit' was in evidence long before the Blitz.

But I also have some concerns. A minor one is that it's not generally a good idea to give books on the same topic the same titles, especially in the age of SEO. More problematically, though, it is an anachronism. Nobody in 1915 London would have known what a 'Blitz' was, unless they spoke German. They certainly wouldn't have associated it with aerial warfare, since that didn't happen until the end of the 1930s. Still, anachronisms are sometimes useful ('airminded' itself is a good example -- it wasn't used before the mid-1920s, but what it describes already existed by c. 1910). As long as the anachronism doesn't mislead; and in this case I don't think it does too much, for the reasons I've already discussed. Of course, there are nevertheless significant differences between the 'first' Blitz and the real one, such as the tempo and intensity of bombing, but generally speaking that is quite clear in this comparison -- it's part of the point that the first time around was just a foretaste.

I think the real problem for me is that by choosing 'Blitz' as a frame, other frames are excluded. And this is as true for 1940 as it is for 1915 and 1917. There are three connected problems here. Firstly, the Blitz is a national narrative. It constructs aerial bombardment as a characteristically British experience; there is no place in the story for all the other countries that were bombed in the Second World War, from Poland to Germany itself. Secondly, the Blitz is also a nationalist narrative. It celebrates the cheerfulness and stoicism of the British people under the terrible ordeal inflicted on them by the Luftwaffe, while ignoring the widespread demands to do the same or worse to German civilians. Finally, the Blitz isn't even really a war narrative; it's a disaster narrative. The Blitz often isn't portrayed as a military campaign or a strategy; instead, it's a visitation from the heavens, bringing ruin and devastation for no purpose other than to highlight the goodness of the good guys and the badness of the bad guys. Importing the Blitz frame from 1940-41 to 1915-18 risks importing some or all of these narratives too, even if only subconsciously or partially.

I'm not suggesting that the Blitz should be discarded (not that anyone would listen if I did). But there are, of course, other ways to frame this history. Richard Overy's The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945 (2013) places the Blitz squarely in the European experience of aerial bombardment as well as the broader military context of the Second World War. And this suggests an alternate way to frame the air raids on Britain between 1915 and 1918: as part of the first bombing war, the same war in which Paris was bombed, Antwerp was bombed, Freiburg was bombed, Venice was bombed, and so on. So that's what somebody needs to write now. It won't be me, though!