From Hampton Court Palace

Actually, that should read "ReturnED on a jet plane" as I'm finally back in good old Melbourne-town again, but I find it hard to resist symmetry. (Anyway, I started to write this post at Heathrow waiting for my Qantas flight home, but my laptop crashed twice so I decided that it wasn't meant to be and just switched it off.) Eventually I'll be returning to a more normal (life and blogging) schedule, but for now here's yet another in my series of blurry photos of flying aircraft, which I took from the bank of the Thames, just outside Hampton Court Palace, on the summer bank holiday a few weeks ago. One thing the London sky is not short of is jets!


I'm currently at Hexham in Northumberland, where I've been busy touring some of the Hadrian's Wall sites: Chesters (yesterday), Vindolanda and Housesteads (today). All of which were utterly memorable, and a write-up will eventually be forthcoming; but it was only at Vindolanda that I was buzzed by a very low- and very fast-flying Tornado! It turns out that Vindolanda is within the RAF's Low Flying Area 13, so it's probably a common enough event around here; but it's not very common to me. Although I fumbled with the camera, I did manage to take one picture of it, before it screamed over the horizon:
Vindolanda Tornado
Here's a close-up:
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Way out

So, after just under two months in London, it's time to leave. Tomorrow morning I'm on the train1 to York, then after that, Hexham (near Hadrian's Wall), Edinburgh, Rome2 before finally getting back to good old Melbourne-town on 18 September. It should be a great way to cap off what has already been a fantastic trip, and will also give me a chance to unwind a bit before I plunge into the task of assessing the material I've gathered here in London.

So what have I been up to? From my posts it probably seems as if I've spent all my time sightseeing, but (in case my supervisor is reading this!) actually that was only one or two days a week. Apart from attending two conferences, giving one presentation, and meeting with a number of aviation historians, the rest of the week was usually spent in some archive or library, including:

I got to see most of what I wanted; though an extra day at RAeS and the RAF Museum would have been most useful, and I never made it to places like the Marx Memorial Library or the British Film Institute. And I may even spend half a day at the National Library of Scotland while in Edinburgh, though that's looking doubtful now. I printed or photocopied over 3000 pages, mostly from microfilmed newspapers, and took nearly 1600 photos of documents. And that's excluding the transcriptions I made of other documents which didn't seem worth filling out a form to get photocopied. I have no idea if this is a lot in relative terms, but in absolute terms the idea of going through all that is making me feel faint!

There have been a few surprises along the way. The most surprising thing, and a pleasant surprise at that, was bumping into Alex Dickson at the RAF Museum, who is doing his PhD on the origins of the RAF Volunteer Reserve; we eventually realised that we'd corresponded some time back, but completely by chance he had come down from Scotland to visit the RAF Museum on the one day that I was there, and to look at the same papers too! Sometimes it's a very very small world indeed.

Another surprise was that in this day and age (viz, the Internet Age) I should have to print out 3000 pieces of paper (the university library at home allows you to save to a USB stick, though the process is slightly cumbersome). And because I can't carry 3000 pieces of paper with me, I had to send them home in a big box, along with some books, totalling 25kg: I don't even want to say how much that cost! And because I was paranoid about the big box going missing on the way to Australia (and therefore wasting most of my trip here), I took the precaution of taking photos of each and every page beforehand. Some of them may be a bit blurry, but it will be far better than nothing if disaster strikes. Digital technology to the rescue, that's great and all; but it seems like there are one or two intermediate steps which could be eliminated here!

But the most surprising thing I learned here was how to put on a tie -- surprised that I had to do it at all! I've never needed to wear one before and would have quite happily gone to my grave never having learned how to tie one. But one of the conferences I went to was at RAF Cranwell; and even civilians needed to adhere to a minimum standard of dress ("Planters") while in the main building. Including, for men, the wearing of a tie. So first I had to buy a tie, which vaguely went with the shirts I brought with me, then learn how to put it on (the night before the conference). Of course that wasn't hard at all, but it wasn't anything I had expected to be doing here in London either.

Thanks to everyone who has shown me great hospitality while I've been here; you've helped make this trip memorable and not just productive! I look forward to catching up with you all some time in the future, here most likely, or in Melbourne if you ever happen to visit. I should have some form of net access while traveling, so I don't expect a real blog hiatus, though how much I'll be able to post is another question. Probably more travel blogging, I'm sorry to say: I promise there will be plenty more of the traditional Airminded fare when I get back to Australia! Er, and more travel blogging too, I suppose.

  1. I know: not very airminded of me. 

  2. That one is by plane! 

Yet another British war game to add to the pile, this one from 1922: The Raider.

A copy of a new game called "The Raider" has been received from Enstone and Lilienfeld, of 47, Berners Street, W.1. The game consists of a large sheet divided into squares, the whole showing a view of a battle-front seen from the air. The game is played with miniature attacking and defending aircraft, and is further complicated by machine gun and shrapnel barrage, contrary winds and failing engines. Moves are made by throwing dice, the object being for the attacking force -- 3 in number -- to reach and bomb a village and return intact.

The defending force is 9 in number, and these take off from two different aerodromes. The game, which was invented by an officer of the R.A.F., is so designed that experience in the gentle art of scrapping in the air is of considerable value to the players. The price is 5s. net.

Incidentally, Messrs Enstone and Lilienfeld, by whom the game is made and marketed, are ex-officers of the R.A.F., and they have besides a most amazing selection of "Brainwave" games and implements with which to pass the time amusingly.1

This is rather interesting, especially given the timing: about 5 weeks after P. R. C. Groves popularised the knock-out blow in a series of articles The Times. I think you could just about knock together a boardgame in that time; on the other hand, Messrs Enstone and Lilienfeld might have working on it for some time and it may just be a coincidence. The object is to bomb (or defend) a village, which could be considered a civilian target, though given that the map is described as a 'battle-front' I'd say it's more likely that it's being attacked to support ground operations. The defenders out-number the attackers by three to one, which seems unusual in these sorts of games: normally the forces are quite symmetrical. It suggests a "bomber will always get through" mentality, but it could also just as easily be the result of the way the game is set up (for example, perhaps the defending player gets to choose where their aerodromes are, but does so before the attacker: they would then be at a severe disadvantage unless they had more units to play with). And the suggestion that the game is 'so designed that experience in the gentle art of scrapping in the air is of considerable value to the players' implies that the rules allow the possibility for aerial manoeuvring and are in some sense intended to be "realistic" rather than abstract (as do the rules about AA, wind and engine failure), though I wonder how that works given that movement is said to be based on die rolls.

Google seems not to know about The Raider so presumably it wasn't a big seller, despite the Aeroplane's best efforts.

  1. Aeroplane, 3 May 1922, p. 312. 


Of course.

I cancel a planned1 trip to Hamburg for a conference in order to extend my stay in London by 4 days, so I can hit a few more archives and libraries that I really wanted to look at. And what happens? A 3-day tube strike, which started this afternoon and finishes the evening before I leave. To make matters worse, the places I want to go have been closed for the last week or more, and so I haven't been able to confirm any appointments. So I don't know where I'm going or how I'll get there. I'm so glad I decided to stay the extra days.

Actually, it's not as bad as all that: one of the places I can walk to, another is on the Piccadilly line, which is my local line and is one of the few still running. But it will probably be packed solid. Again, getting to Peckham will in theory be ok, since the Northern line is also still running and so I can get to London Bridge and thence to Peckham Rye by National Rail. But of course, like every other poor sod using public transport I'll have to factor in long delays and leave much earlier than I otherwise would. Just what I didn't need to be doing when I've already got too much to do before I leave!

If only there was another way to travel ...

Dragon Rapide
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  1. Well, more like "vaguely thought about" than "planned", but still. 


In some ways it seems as if I've only just arrived in London; in others, it's like I've been here forever. But I now have just under a week left here, so I'm racking up a lot of "last times".1 Today was the last time I visited British Library Newspapers at Colindale, which is where I've spent most of my time, actually -- nearly every day there for the first month, the odd day or two since then.

So, to mark this occasion, here's a picture of a TARDIS:

Hendon police box
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  1. Though also still a number of firsts: yesterday was the first time I wandered past Buckingham Palace. For those non-Australians who might not know, Buckingham Palace is where the Queen of Australia lives when she is not back home. It's a nice enough little holiday house; though I did wonder why the Union Jack was flying and not the Australian flag -- seems rather un-Australian, if you ask me. 

Raymond H. Fredette. The Sky on Fire: The First Battle of Britain 1917-1918 and the Birth of the Royal Air Force. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institute Press, 1991 [1966]. Even though it's now over 40 years old, this is still the best book around on the Gotha raids on Britain in 1917-8.

F. S. Northedge. The League of Nations: Its Life and Times, 1920-1946. Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1986. Similarly, library shelves aren't exactly overflowing with histories of the League of Nations, so I nabbed this when I saw it!


As part of the BBC's Summer of British Film, The Dam Busters will be showing next week at selected cinemas across the UK. I'll be seeing it, with at least one Airminded regular, at the Peckham Multiplex next Tuesday at 7.30pm, for the surprisingly reasonable price of 99p. Any readers who would like to come along would be most welcome; give me a shout in the comments or directly, and we'll arrange ... something.

It's always a pleasure to see classic movies the way they were meant to be seen, on the big screen. (Although "big" is a relative term, especially here given that it's at a multiplex!) And it is a classic: bombers, boffins, bouncing bombs, a stirring musical score and an unflinching portrayal of Bomber Command's area bombing policy. Well, obviously that last part is a lie -- but it's still well worth seeing.

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I don't often link to interesting posts from Modern Mechanix because once you start, where do you stop? But I am compelled to point out this one which reprints an October 1934 Modern Mechanix and Inventions article about an American (presumably) idea for a solar-powered flying airfield.

Modern Mechanix October 1934

It's as simple as putting a landing strip for aeroplanes on top of an airship, and covering the rest of the top surface with 'solar photo cells' (i.e., solar panels). The article suggests that one application would be that 'Planes could land on the dirigible, floating over the sea, to refuel for trans-ocean passenger service'.

So, going one way, this links to other contemporary ideas for routinising flight over the Atlantic (in particular), such as the seadrome and Project Habbakuk. In another direction, it links to modern solar-powered airships designed for stratospheric surveillance. And finally, it links to real-life flying aircraft carriers such as the USS Macon and fictional ones such as HMS Whatever-it-was in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

There's no information given in the article about whose idea this was. The suspicion arises that it was invented purely to justify putting an airship on the front cover ... not too different from this post, really!