1918 – The Genesis of Modern Warfare: The Birth of the Royal Air Force and the Hundred Days Campaign

June 12, 2008

Conference announcement, via the Society for First World War Studies.
2008 is the ninetieth anniversary of two landmark events in the history of the British armed forces: the creation of the Royal Air Force, the world’s first independent air service, from the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service; and the ‘Hundred Days’ campaign, the greatest series of land victories in British military history. This conference marks these anniversaries. Papers will address land, air and maritime topics, including technology; tactics, operations and strategy; logistics; organisation; command; doctrine; the media; culture; and the legacy of 1918.
2-3 September 2008
Birmingham & Midland Institute
Margaret Street
Birmingham B3 3BS

Organised by the Centre for First World War Studies, University of Birmingham, Defence Studies (Army); Defence Studies (Royal Air Force); Defence Studies (Royal Navy).

Speakers include:
Gary Sheffield, Sebastian Cox, Stephen Badsey

There are a limited number of slots available for early-stage scholars to give papers. Please contact Professor Gary Sheffield (gDOTdDOTsheffieldATbhamDOTacDOTuk – replace capitalised words with punctuation) with offers of presentations.

For further details and an application form, visit http://www.1918modernwar.bham.ac.uk/

(Some chap called Todman is also speaking at the end of the second day…)


Angus Calder

June 9, 2008

Historian, poet, literary critic and Scot Angus Calder has died at 66. A very sad loss. His book The People’s War remains a stand out history of the British home front in the Second World War nearly forty years after it was first published, and his study of how The Myth of the Blitz was created demonstrated an ability, remarkable in academics, to reconsider and improve his own work over time. It is astonishing to think that The People’s War was published when he was only 27: every time I go back to it I am amazed at the amount he packed in and the nuanced sensitivity with which he wrote. It is rather too easy to perceive The People’s War, alongside RIchard Titmuss’ earlier Problems of Social Policy, the Second World War chapters in AJP Taylor’s English History 1914-1945 and Constantine Fitzgibbon’s The Blitz, as the constructors of a myth of wartime consensus and unity. Bearing in mind how soon after the conflict they were written, I think the degree to which they acknowledged the variety and complexity of wartime experience is impressive. Even if Calder wasn’t ‘right’ in every case the first time around, as he himself acknowledged, it’s rare to find a nuance he didn’t mention. RIP.

Edit, 11/06/08 – obits from the Independent, the Herald and, from Bernard Crick, the Guardian.

Interesting things I have learned in the last fortnight.

June 6, 2008

1. Murray Walker commanded a tank in the Royal Scots Greys in North West Europe during the Second World War. Insert your own commentary joke here.

2. In the original version of this picture, LAC Daphne Pearson GC was holding a rifle, not her gas mask. Dame Laura Knight painted the image at a point when WAAFs carrying arms was a controversial issue, so she was encouraged to take out what she had thought was a nice artistic line. (Pearson was, at it turns out, a keen shot, but she won the George Cross for protecting a wounded airman, not shooting anyone).

(D. Pearson, In War and Peace: The Life and Times of Daphne Pearson GC (London, Thorogood, 2001), 96-97)

3. The Tank Museum at Bovington, where I spoke on ‘1914-18 in the context of 1939-45’ is well worth a visit. It would actually be a great place to teach a unit on technology and the Second World War, since you could demonstrate things like the difference in tank construction very easily, and draw out a whole load of fascinating industrial and cultural points. And even better, they have two examples of the Daimler Dingo Scout Car, the complicated gearbox of which got my grandfather a new army job in Egypt.

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