One thing we were curious to try with hota-time is to see whether the idea and the code could be applied beyond looking at London-Sydney travel times. And it can! Here is the output for Melbourne-Sydney travel times, in hours rather than days:
Lots of data points, roughly the same as for the London-Sydney plot. It does look like there is some sort of trend over time, but it's pretty messy. So let's break it down a bit so we can see what's going on.
Nearly four years ago, I wrote a post about a software project Tim Sherratt and I were working on for Heritage of the Air called hota-time. Briefly, the idea was that hota-time would extract and then plot travel times between London and Sydney mentioned in Trove Newspaper headlines, as a quantitative way to gauge the qualitative impact that aviation had on Australian perceptions of distance -- or, to be more precise, travel time. We (Tim) wrote the code, proved the concept to our satisfaction, uploaded the project, and then didn't get around to writing it up for publication. Which we are now remedying… nearly four years later! (The writing, that is, not yet the publication.)
As part of this process, we've been cleaning up the data and trying some different visualisations. Here's one of the more interesting plots.
This is an updated version of the first plot in the old post, but instead of just lumping all the data together, it is separated out by colour:
dark red: sea, present
indigo: sea, future
yellow: air, present
teal: air, future
That is, present travel times are those reported as actually having been achieved, whereas future travel times have not yet been achieved (usually because they are medium or long-term forecasts, but shorter-term schedule changes fall into this category too). So dark red + yellow tracks actual travel times between London and Sydney, while indigo + teal tracks predicted travel times. Or dark red + indigo tracks sea travel, while yellow + teal tracks air travel.
Continuing this miscellany, on 23 August 1913 the Maitland Daily Mercury published a letter from the Reverend G. W. Payne reporting that he, his wife, and a Mr and Mrs Preston had seen 'an aeroplane with searchlight hovering fairly high over Newcastle and the Hunter Valley'. This was just before 4am on 22 August 1913, though Mr Preston had also seen the light at 2am on 21 August. What they were all doing at such an early (or late) hour is unclear, but it was 'A reflection of the light on the still waters of the lake' (presumably Lake Macquarie) which first caught their attention:
The four of us watched it traversing a line from the direction of Newcastle north and west. Though at a considerable distance from us and fairly high in the air, the nature of the light was quite unmistakeable. It passed away in a westerly direction after loitering some time over the Hunter Valley.
Wesley is indefatigably thorough, or possibly thoroughly indefatigable: this was his 27th interview for this podcast, on top of 97 regular episodes, and he's still only in the interwar period! (This is after doing 295 podcast episodes on History of the Great War, too: clearly he knew what he was getting into.) So there is plenty more world war content to consume -- including another fiveepisodesoninterwarairpower, and an interview with Alan Allport on 1930s Britain -- and when you've finished with all that you can go read Wesley's sources.
The question of aerial armaments will be discussed at the Washington Conference, and it is as well for us, while hoping for the best results from the conclave of the nations, to realise some of the terrifying developments in aerial warfare to which scientists are devoting attention. Shown here is a flying bomb, fitted with small wings and a motor, which can be steered by wireless so as to drop on the desired objective. One has only to remember the work done by wireless-controlled boats in the War, to realise in the flying bomb a terrible weapon, the construction of which, at all costs, must be avoided.
In the previous post I looked at the possible origins of the phrase 'big bang' -- as in 'Big Bang' -- in Operation Big Bang, the partial destruction in 1947 of Heligoland, a German island in the North Sea. I also suggested that there was longer history to the phrase 'big bang', which I'll also dig into here -- partly for its own sake, partly to illustrate how easy it is track a term's popularity over time in the British Newspaper Archive (BNA). And partly because I love the headline above, over 70 years before the other Big Bang was 'photographed' by COBE.
After its early showing in the 1909 mystery airship wave, Australia was rarely visited by phantom airships proper. Maybe that's because real airships were even rarer, with none that I know of between 1914 and the late twentieth century: they just weren't a very plausible thing to think you saw. But they did turn up sometimes.
There was one in Western Australia in 1910, another in 1918, and a relatively famous one on 10 June 1931 between Lord Howe Island to Jervis Bay. That last one was seen by Sir Francis Chichester while making the first east-west solo flight from New Zealand to Australia -- though he seems to have only reported it decades later, and even then stopped of short of claiming it actually was an airship. In 1925, another phantom airship was seen, more definitely but equally incongruously, at Myall, near the Murray River in northern Victoria.
The time has finally come to address the claim I've made in the title of this series of posts, that the air raid somehow vanished. Why did I say that, and what does it mean? Well, look at the plot above. Previously I looked at how often 'air raid' (and related phrases) appeared per issue in the British Newspaper Archive (BNA) in each month across the First World War. The above plot, now, is how often 'air raid' appeared per issue in each year from the start of the First World War (when 'air raid' was first used) until the end of the Second. Now you can see that the first peak in 'air raid''s popularity came in 1917, at an average of 0.8 mentions in every newspaper issue in BNA; and that this was followed by a second, much bigger peak in 1940 of 5.2 mentions in every newspaper issue in BNA. All of which makes sense.
What's more surprising is what happened in between. From 1921 to 1934, the phrase 'air raid' almost completely disappears from BNA. At the lowest point, 1929, the average number of mentions per issue was just 0.026, or one in about 38. In other words, if you read 38 issues you might expect to read the phrase 'air raid' once, which is more than six weeks of reading a daily. If you want some absolute figures, 'air raid' appears 609 times in the 23054 issues contained in BNA for 1929. So 'air raid' was not a phrase you were at all likely to see in a newspaper in the 1920s and early 1930s.
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':
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.
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! ...continue reading →