After 1903, 1911, 1913 and 1928, it's time to round off this miscellany of Australian mystery aircraft with 1939 and 1940 -- separated by little over a year in time, but quite far apart in place and circumstance....continue reading
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'.1 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.2
- Maitland Daily Mercury, 23 August 1913, 4.
It's been a while since I've done a mystery aircraft post, so here are a few Australian ones I've been saving up for a rainy day (or days):...continue reading
A few years back, my article 'William Le Queux, the Zeppelin menace and the Invisible Hand' was published in Critical Survey, with the following abstract:
In contrast to William Le Queux's pre-1914 novels about German spies and invasion, his wartime writing is much less well known. Analysis of a number of his works, predominantly non-fictional, written between 1914 and 1918 shows that he modified his perception of the threat posed by Germany in two ways. Firstly, because of the lack of a German naval invasion, he began to emphasise the more plausible danger of aerial attack. Secondly, because of the incompetent handling of the British war effort, he began to believe that an 'Invisible Hand' was responsible, consisting primarily of naturalised Germans. Switching form from fiction to non-fiction made his writing more persuasive, but he was not able to sustain this and he ended the war with less influence than he began it.
It seems like only last week that I was spruiking a podcast appearance -- actually, it was last month, which is also not very long ago! This time it was on the History of the Second World War podcast with Wesley Livesay, chatting about the German air raids on Britain of the First World War (and how that affected British thinking and planning for the air raids of the Second World War).
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 five episodes on interwar airpower, and an interview with Alan Allport on 1930s Britain -- and when you've finished with all that you can go read Wesley's sources.
In September 1909, rather late in Invasion's run, an article appeared in Pearson's Weekly explaining not only some of the pyrotechnical mechanics behind the spectacle, but also the underlying airpower theory. Because it was not merely an popular entertainment and a commercial one at that, but a response to the question 'Invasion by aeroplane, is it possible?'1...continue reading
- Pearson's Weekly (London), 9 September 1909, 204.
This photo, according to the Illustrated London News, shows 'THE FIRST SHELL DISCHARGED FROM AN AEROPLANE OVER ENGLAND'.1 But it doesn't really, because the 'aeroplane' almost certaintly wasn't real but a non-flying mock-up strung on a wire or something, and while the 'shell' no doubt contained gunpowder it probably wouldn't have done much damage unless it happened to blow up directly in your face.2 This was June 1909, and the 'aeroplane' was part of a nightly (except Saturdays) live action pyrotechnic entertainment at the Crystal Palace's football ground called Invasion, described in an advertisement in the Globe as a:
COLOSSAL SIGHT. ABSOLUTE NOVELTY.
BATTLE OF THE FUTURE.
BOMBARDMENT BY AIRSHIPS.
A VILLAGE DESTROYED.
NOVEL SET PIECES.
A REAL TREAT FOR FOREIGN VISITORS.3
Of which last the Westminster Gazette wrote sardonically, 'We admire that final touch. England is destroyed to make a foreign holiday'.4...continue reading
A little while ago I was privileged to be part of a discussion on the Stories from the Space Between podcast with Rinni Haji Amran and Luke Seaber, and hosted by Michael McCluskey, on the idea of, yes, airmindedness. Michael and Luke edited Aviation in the Literature and Culture of Interwar Britain, to which Rinni and I (and, for that matter, Luke and Michael!) contributed chapters. Here's the blurb:
Take off for a discussion of “airmindedness” with contributors to Aviation in the Literature and Culture of Interwar Britain (Palgrave 2020). What did it mean to be “airminded” in interwar Britain? How did airmindedness encapsulate the possibilities and potential dangers of aviation? How was it an expression of military and industrial power as well as aerial theatre? Join Rinni Haji Amran, Brett Holman, and Luke Seaber for a discussion of aviation, Croydon aerodrome, and the work of W. H. Auden, Virginia Woolf, and T. H. White, among others. Rinni Haji Amran is a Lecturer in English Literature at the University Brunei Darussalam. Brett Holman is a Professional Associate of the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research at the University of Canberra in Australia. Luke Seaber is Senior Teaching Fellow in Modern European Culture at University College London and the co-editor with Michael McCluskey of Aviation in the Literature and Culture of Interwar Britain (Palgrave 2020).
Stories from the Space Between is the podcast of the Space Between, a society for the interdisciplinary discussion of studies in the interwar and wartime periods covered by 1914–1945. It's only up to episode 5 but has already covered everything from psychogeography to Poland! You can listen to the airmindedness episode here.
While you're waiting for me to write Home Fires Burning, here are some other books (mostly) on the same topic, whether wholly or in substantial part. This is not meant to be in any way a comprehensive list; it's merely what I have found to be most useful. I've included links to out-of-copyright/open access versions, where available....continue reading
Last night I had my first full-on anxiety dream about nuclear war since the 1980s. As ICBM trails arced across the blue sky overhead, I ran for the safety of a nearby shelter -- and confirmed that the Third World War had started by getting out my phone to check my social media feeds.
Of course, I'm quite safe here in Australia. It's not my home town which is being shelled by Russian artillery, not my family which is being killed in Putin's unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine. The risk of escalation is not non-zero, but would be increased dramatically if the calls from some quarters for a no-fly zone -- in some ways, an ad hoc kind of international air force -- were heeded. But, despite the dreams of liberal militarists, airpower is not a bloodless panacea; air war always has been real war. It's not a cheap way to avoid fighting. Fortunately everybody with a direct say in the matter seems to be well aware that a NATO no-fly zone over Ukraine would be a very bad idea indeed. So, I probably should be able to sleep easier than I am. But there's a very interwar kind of trauma involved in reliving an existential fear all over again. We've all been here before, again....continue reading