The previous post ended with this photo, and another very similar one, which Getty Images dates to 17 October 1917 with the caption 'Moses Shackman, centre, with members of the Jewish East End Shelter Corps. Their hats are labelled in Yiddish and English':

Raid Shelter Corps, 1917

As I noted, the hatbands actually say (in English, at least), 'RAID SHELTER CORPS'. This turns out to be a somewhat mysterious organisation, but I think I've managed to track it down.

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Broadgate, Coventry, 25 August 1939

From Alan Allport's excellent new book, Britain at Bay 1938-1941, a couple of sentences about the IRA's 1939 bombing campaign which were guaranteed to catch my attention as imaginary air raids:

Some witnesses to the Broadgate bombing interviewed by the police were convinced that they had seen aircraft in the sky moments before the explosion, and that they had actually been attacked by the Luftwaffe. When, back in May, the IRA had set off a magnesium bomb in a Paramount cinema in Birmingham, there had been pandemonium inside the auditorium as members of the audience panicked, thinking that the long-dreaded German aerial Blitz had begun. 'Keep calm -- it's only the Irish again,' someone shouted to reassure the crowd (whether they added 'and carry on' is unknown).

There's a little more detail available in the contemporary press about the first incident, which killed five people and injured seventy more in Broadgate, a major shopping street in Coventry, on 25 August 1939 (as shown above). The Birmingham Post reported that

There was chaos for a time after the Coventry explosion. A bomber aeroplane was passing over the centre of the city at the time, and the first thought of many people was that a surprise air attack had begun. This fear, indeed, led to an ugly scene. One of three men standing near a car was heard to say 'Let’s get away' or 'Let’s get out of this.' Some hearers jumped to the conclusion that the men were responsible for the explosion, and a threatening crowd began to collect. It was with difficulty that the police got the three men away to the police station, to be detained for a time for their own safety. The men’s credentials were found satisfactory, and they were afterwards released.

The link between the three men and the belief that an air raid was under way is a bit cyrptic here, but is clearer in the Dundee Courier and Advertiser's account:

The men explained that they had been standing near their car when the explosion occurred. The eldest of the men, who was with his son and grandson, shouted, 'The war has started -- let's get away,' and ran to his car, whereupon the crowd shouted, 'Lynch them.'

So the grandfather, at least, was one of those who believed that the knock-out blow from the air had arrived. This was just one week before the declaration of war on Germany. Britain was already beginning to move to a war footing -- the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act had received Royal Assent the day before -- and Coventry was an important heavy manufacturing centre, so you can see why the first thought might have been of a Luftwaffe bomb from the sky, rather than an IRA one on the ground. The surprise, perhaps, is that more people didn't make this assumption. At least some people seem to have understood that it was a terrorist attack, or else they wouldn't have made to grab the three men just for trying to flee the scene (this was in fact the seventh IRA bomb in Coventry since February, though by far the most damaging). Though it's also possible that the idea was the men were spies who had directed the supposed bomber to its target somehow. Or both, or neither: mobs aren't really known for their cool logic.

Image source: Leitrim Observer.


Michael McCluskey and Luke Seaber (eds), Aviation in the Literature and Culture of Interwar Britain

I've got a chapter entitled 'Spectre and spectacle: mock air raids as aerial theatre in interwar Britain' in a new Palgrave Macmillan collection just out, Aviation in the Literature and Culture of Interwar Britain, edited by Michael McCluskey and Luke Seaber. Here's the abstract:

This chapter argues that aerial theatre, in the form of annual air displays at Hendon and on Empire Air Day, was used by the Royal Air Force (RAF) to generate a sensationally modern image of technological sublimity through violent spectacles of aerial warfare, including the performance of mock air raids. This was amplified by a second, incidental kind of aerial theatre, performed as part of Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB) exercises and air raid precautions (ARP) drills in the form of mock air raids on British cities. These attracted curious and even excited audiences, conscious that they might be seeing previews of their own deaths. In combining spectre and spectacle, the RAF’s mock air raids underscore the ambivalent nature of airmindedness in interwar Britain.

It's my third article pushing the aerial theatre concept, and it builds on both of its predecessors ('The militarisation of aerial theatre' and 'The meaning of Hendon'). Here I narrow my focus specifically to mock battles, particularly those portraying air raids on civilian targets. But I also widen things out by drawing a distinction between what I call formal aerial theatre, meaning the sorts of air displays I usually write about such as the RAF Display (Hendon) and Empire Air Day, and incidental aerial theatre, in this case mainly meaning the annual ADGB exercises from 1927 onwards, as well as, beginning in 1936, ARP drills. 'Incidental', because while the point of these exercises was to determine the effectiveness of air and civil defences, they also involved RAF aircraft carrying out simulated attacks on actual urban targets in a very public and spectacular fashion. Those living in and around these targets were exposed to this aerial theatre whether they wanted to be or not. In fact, many people came out to watch these exercises as entertainment: in 1928, for example, 'omnibuses took parties of sightseers to the hills around London' to watch their city get theoretically pounded to rubble. Which I found quite fascinating, and so I wrote a chapter about it!
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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. 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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In May 1911, two policemen were sent out from Yamba, a logging town at the mouth of the Clarence River in northern New South Wales, to investigate something odd which had been found on 'top of a sandhill near Ryan's waterhole, about six miles [away] and about 400 yards in from the beach':

a rudely-constructed aeroplane, 30 feet in length and 4 feet wide, with a wing on one side about 2 feet wide. Extending the full length in the middle was a sort of platform with a seat roughly fixed with fencing wire and padded with old bagging. Scores of fine wires were fixed to the platform and extending to all parts of the structure. There were two keels braced together with split bamboo rods, every six inches, like the timbers in a boat. Every joint was securely and neatly capped with fine wire. Only two nails were used in the whole construction [...] The most peculiar thing about the craft was
that it could be plainly seen that the only tool used in preparing the timber had been a knife [...] The whole floor of the structure was covered with newspapers pasted together, forming a very thick pad.

None of the newspapers was dated later than 3 May 1911, and the aeroplane 'appeared to have been only a short period of time at the spot where it was discovered, as the papers were quite fresh and not discoloured'. Another odd detail was

that from low water mark on the beach near the sea is a deep and narrow track from the water's edge up the steep sandhill to where the airship was lying, appearing as if something from the sea had been dragged up to the spot where the structure was lying.

One report suggested that 'the plane had evidently been damaged, since one of the flaps had been damaged', though here 'plane' should be taken to mean 'wing' rather than 'aeroplane'. Since 'There is no trace of any engine about', it was surmised that the machine was a glider:

The builder had evidently taken an aeroplane for a model, and attempted to construct a single plane, which would allow him to float with tbe wind from the top of one of the sand hills of the Terrace.

But who was this mysterious builder? Suspicion quickly fell on 'an elderly man [...] a stranger to Yamba, who bought stores and papers a few times from local people' and who 'has since disappeared'. Within a few days of the initial story, it was being regarded locally as 'a hoax'. That can't be ruled out, though the possible motivation (other than sheer perversity) of leaving a fake aeroplane for somebody to stumble across is unclear.
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Wreck of the Hindenburg

Alexander Rose. Empires of the Sky: Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men's Epic Duel to Rule the World. New York: Random House, 2020.

The two men of the title both led a great aviation enterprise. Both dreamed of spanning the world with their passenger aircraft. Both struggled at times, and prospered at others. But one was outlived by his company, while the other died knowing that his life's work had been reduced to ashes. The former was Juan Terry Trippe, the head of Pan American Airways (PAA; better known as Pan Am) from 1927 to 1968; the latter, Hugo Eckener, who ran Luftschiffbau Zeppelin and DELAG, the Zeppelin airline, after the death of Count Zeppelin in 1917. Both wanted to span the world's continents and oceans by air: Trippe championed aeroplanes as the best way to do this; Eckener, obviously, airships. We all know how that turned out, but well-known stories are often worth revisiting because, well, you don't always know what you thought you did. And so Alexander Rose -- who is perhaps best known as the author of Washington's Spies, which was turned into a successful television series, but wrote his PhD on British air defence policy in the 1930s -- has written a thoroughly researched, fully referenced, hugely informative and compellingly readable account of the struggle for the future of civil aviation.
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Kim Wagner pointed out an article in Providence ('A journal of Christianity & American foreign policy') by Nigel Biggar, entitled 'Thank God for the Royal Air Force!'. Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford University, has attained some notoriety for his 'Ethics and Empire' research project, which seeks

  1. to trawl the history of ethical critiques of ‘empire’;
  2. to test the critiques against the historical facts of empire; and thereby
  3. to garner possible ethical resources for contemporary deployment

in order

  1. to develop a nuanced and historically intelligent Christian ethic of empire;
  2. and so to enable a morally sophisticated negotiation of contemporary issues such as military intervention for humanitarian purposes in culturally foreign states, the cohesion of multicultural societies, and settling imperial pasts

That's according to Biggar's website. According to his critics (i.e. scholars of empire and colonialism), this

'balance sheet' approach to empire is rooted in the self-serving justifications of imperial administrators, attempting to balance out the violence committed in the name of empire with its supposed benefits. It has long since lost its scholarly legitimacy, as research has instead moved to trace the actions which occurred in the name of empire in their complexity through time.

An opinion piece written by Biggar for The Times was headlined -- whether he approved or not -- 'Don’t feel guilty about our colonial history'.
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Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, 23 January 1941

Mark Clapson. The Blitz Companion: Aerial Warfare, Civilians and the City Since 1911. London: University of Westminster Press, 2019,

Open access has had its travails, but one welcome recent development, particularly in the UK, seems to be the rise of open access monographs and textbooks. An example of the former is Gabriel Moshenska's Material Cultures of Childhood in Second World War Britain, a historical anthropology which focuses largely on the material culture of air raids, and is the product of many years of research brought out by a respected academic publisher. You can buy a physical copy at the usual moderate prices, or if you'd rather pay nothing you can read it online or download the ebook. Brilliant!

Another example of this trend, and the subject of this review, is Mark Clapson's The Blitz Companion, which again can be purchased in physical format (this time at an actually moderate price), or read online or downloaded for free, from here (and it's on JSTOR too). This is more of a textbook aimed at undergraduates, though upper secondary students would also profit from it, and postgraduates might find it a useful introduction to the topic. And it's a big topic: the title suggests that it's going to be about the British experience of bombing during the Second World War, but in fact it covers a whole century (and counting) and much of Western Europe beyond Britain, as well as extended discussions of Japan, Korea and Vietnam, and, to a lesser extent, the Middle East. Indeed, Clapson sees 'Blitz' as a transnational phenomenon, hence the title (though this could have used a bit more unpacking, and I'd put it in lower-case when using it in this sense).
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I showed in an earlier post that scepticism of Baldwin's dictum that 'the bomber will always get through' begins to appear in the British Newspaper Archive (BNA) in 1937, if only in a very small way. In 1938, the majority opinion still takes it to be axiomatic. For example, town alderman W. A. Miller, attacked the lack of information available about Plymouth City Council air raid precautions (ARP) planning:

'It is pure pretence to say you can offer any defence against the bomb,' he said. 'The bomber will always get through. When the things happen for which these precautions are intended, anarchy will not be in it.'

W.V. of Belfast began a letter to the editor of the Northern Whig by stating that

'The bomber will always get through,' bombs will be dropped, and many people killed despite air raid precautions. Against high explosives no protection is possible.

In July, George Lansbury, pacifist and former leader of the Labour Party, gave a widely-publicised speech in which he referred to 'the cold fact attested by military and scientific authorities [...] the bomber must always get through'.

But this kind of discussion drops off later in the year. The phrase 'the bomber will always get through' doesn't appear at all in BNA in September or October, the months when the Sudeten (or Munich) crisis and the threat of a knock-out blow from the air dominated the news.
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