The Future of Aviation

British journalist Harry Harper (1880-1960) claimed to be the “World’s First Air Correspondent.” He was in France to see Blériot take off for that historic crossing of the English Channel and lived long enough to write about the Viking rocket and satellites. His enthusiasm made him an evangelist for the aviation industry at times. Almost ninety years ago, he wrote this about his vision of the future.

Flying will grow cheaper and cheaper. Already we have our air excursions to Paris and to the sea-coast, and to big race-meetings and football matches. And what I see dawning, now, is an even more wonderful era than that.

HP42I can see the day coming when, thanks to this magic carpet of the airway, we shall live a wider, fuller life than we do to-day. ….. Picture to yourself the day when great oceans as well as continents are spanned regularly and safely by huge air machines. And then imagine the wonderful scope which you will have when the time comes for you to take a well-earned holiday. With business pressure what it is to-day, none of us can spend much time on our vacations. But all of us like to go to new places and see new scenes. And here it is that the all-embracing airway will unfold such fresh vistas before us.

ScyllaNo longer shall we be pinned, say, to a trip down to the seaside, or a rush across to the Continent. Embarking in some great air express, and paying a fare well within our means, we shall sweep high above land and sea, flying thousands of miles where formerly we only travelled hundreds, and being able to reach distant beauty spots which, were it not for the speed of the air machine, it would be impossible for us to visit in the time at our disposal.

HP.42colour

But the world at large needs to be reminded again and again that there is this new facility of aerial transport. …. We want to tell the public, and particularly the business world, to fly when they are in a hurry, to send their letters by air when the time factor is important, and to transmit by airway any parcels or merchandise which are required urgently by those to whom they are despatched. And we want to tell them this, time after time, until an air habit has been acquired, and the use of the airway has become a matter of ordinary routine.

Our aerial future, in fact, lies before us as a future of immense and widespread progress. …. We must now go forward without hesitation into our great universal era of the air.
‘The Romance of a Modern Airway’, Harry Harper, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., Ltd. 1930.

The Price of War

A red commemoration poppy for ANZAC Day on the tiled floor of a war memorial.

Tomorrow is ANZAC Day when Australians and New Zealanders at home and abroad remember their countrymen and women who died in war, and honour those who returned. It’s a uniquely Australasian event first held in 1916 and is commemorated in addition to, not instead of, Armistice Day.

This poem, written at the time of the First World War by English woman Lorna Fane, pays tribute to the casualties we don’t hear about very often.

The Price

‘Tis women who have to stay at home,
Alone with their aching heart,
To wipe the tears from the children’s eyes,
To smile, and to play their part:
While the men-folk fight, and the deed is done,
In rivers of blood ‘neath the setting sun –
And the price is paid.

‘Tis women who have to face the world,
With never a glance ahead;
To lie awake through the midnight hours,
Praying for living or dead:
While the men go down to the gates of hell
To face the thunder of shot and shell –
And to pay the price.

‘Tis women who have to laugh and jest,
With courage that will not fail,
To earn the bread for the children’s mouths,
And trust, though their stout hearts quail:
While the brave men fight, and, if needful, fall,
To answer the cry of the bugle call –
And to pay the price.

‘Tis women who mourn, unheard, unseen,
While the cruel war goes on,
Who weep with anguish for what has been,
Yet hide it all ‘neath a song,
While their loved ones ride to the jaws of death,
To fight for their King with their last, last breath –
Then the price is paid.

A_cross2m

Lieutenant Grider’s New Machine

John McGavock Grider was an American pilot attached to the Royal Air Force in World War One. After months of training, and impatient for action, he was finally given orders to fly to France. He collected his brand-new S.E.5a fighter from the Brooklands depot and wrote in his diary “it certainly is a beauty.”

SE5_ground

May 14 1918. I gave my new plane a work-out in the air to-day. It flies hands off; I put it level just off the ground and it did 130 [m.p.h.]. Then I went up high and did a spinning tail slide. Nothing broke so I have perfect confidence in it. I’ve been cleaning and oiling the machine-guns, tuning up the motor and testing the rigging. The best part of it is that it’s mine – no one else has flown it and no one else ever will. It’s painted green and I have named it the Julep and am having one painted on the side of the fusilage.

SE5_flight

To-morrow, I’ve got to synchronize my gun-gear, set my sights, swing my compass and then I’m ready. Death bring on your sting, oh, grave hoist your gold star!
The bus certainly is plentifully supplied with gadgets. The cockpit looks like the inside of a locomotive cab.

SE5_cockpit

It has two guns: one Vickers and one Lewis. The Vickers is mounted on the fuselage in front of your face and fires through the propeller with a C.C. gear to keep from hitting it. The Lewis is mounted on the top wing and fires over the top of the propeller. It has two sights: a ring sight and an Aldis telescopic sight. I set both sights and both guns so that they will all converge at a spot two hundred yards in front of the line of flight. When you aim, what you really do is to aim the plane and the guns take care of themselves. The Vickers has a belt of four hundred rounds and the Lewis has a drum of one hundred and we carry three spare drums.

SE5_Lewis gunTo change drums you have to pull the gun down on the track with your hand and then take off the empty drum and put on the full one. It’s not hard to do unless you let the wind get against the flat side of the drum, then it will nearly break your wrist. We’ve practised changing until we can do it in our sleep. The Vickers is the best gun by far.
‘War Birds’, Cornstalk Publishing Company, Sydney, Australia, 1928.

Grider was well aware that the life of a fighter pilot at the Front could be short. He mentions the possibilty of death several times. Training could be almost as dangerous. His diary is a catalogue of dead and injured pilots who never made it to the fight. He arrived in France on 25th May – “Here’s where we sober up and get down to real serious work.” John Grider was reported missing in action on 18th June.

The photographs show S.E.5a aircraft built by the Vintage Aviator in New Zealand. These are “reproductions”, made to original specifications, not “replicas” which may have modern components under the skin.

The Road to Damascus

Given the evidence of the past eighty years, and especially this past week, it’s difficult to imagine the Middle East has ever known peace. Yet when these words were written in 1926, Beirut and Damascus were recommended to well-heeled tourists looking for an exotic travel experience.

M_BeirutBeirut …. [is a] busy port and a flourishing Syrian town. The visitor sees evidence of this in the fine harbour, the shipping, the commercial buildings and busy streets. But the East is ever present in the native portions of the population with the varied costumes and dwellings. Beirut has its good hotels, fine buildings and a stately Government House from the roof of which one gets a glorious view of the Mountains of Lebanon and the beautiful surroundings to the town.

M_desertThe Lebanon Mountains and plains between provide scenery of remarkable beauty. Contrasting indeed is that apparently trackless waste, the Syrian Desert. Hot, dry and desolate, at times there is practically no vegitation, while after rain, the desert becomes an almost impassable quagmire. On occasions bands of Bedouin horsemen spring seemingly from nowhere, friendly or otherwise, to disappear as quickly as they came. Camel caravans set out to cross this uninviting area, but for the 600-mile journey to Bagdad the motor transport is preferable to the traveller. The cars start from Beirut, additional passengers being picked up at Damascus.

M_olivesThe ancient capital of Syria is set in delightful surroundings, the minarets and domes rising above the white-terraced roofs completing a picture of impressive beauty. Entering Damascus, most of the streets are narrow and ill-kept, while the houses are in a state of dilapidation. But there are many places of interest; the magnificent Great Mosque, the Mosque of the Whirling Dervishes and numerous others. The bazaars also are particularly attractive. Damascus has of course much association with Biblical history. The traveller can pass along the famous ‘Street called Straight’ and can view the window said to be the one from which St. Paul was let down in a basket, also the houses reputed to have been those of Ananias and Naaman the Leper.

M_Damascus street
‘Around the Mediterranean’ cigarette card series, Major Drapkin & Co., makers of the famous ‘Greys’ cigarettes. 1926.

A Wahine postscript

The Wahine that sank in Wellington harbour on 10th April 1968 (see last post) was the second Lyttelton ferry to carry that name for the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand. The first was a steam ship of 4,436 tons built by Wm. Denny & Brothers of Dumbarton, Scotland in 1913.

s.s. Wahine, 1913

After a distinguished and colourful career that spanned two world wars she, too, met her end by hitting a reef – although this was not a glancing blow. She made a proper job of it.

In 1951 she had been pressed into service as a troopship once more and was transporting New Zealand soldiers to the Korean War. After her last refuelling stop at Darwin, Australia, she was steaming north for Kure, Japan, on 15th August when she ran up on a reef at Masela Island in the Arafura Sea.

Everyone on board was safely transferred to an oil tanker but the old Wahine made a forlorn sight, perched clear of the water, for many years afterwards.

The Wahine Storm

The storm which led to the drama of 10 April 1968 was born far to the north of New Zealand as a tropical depression. Eventually, on the morning of 10 April, it was to give rise in and around Wellington Harbour to the most severe weather conditions that have ever been instrumentally recorded in New Zealand.

….at about 0610 hours, …. t.e.v. Wahine, …. after an overnight voyage from Lyttelton was entering Wellington Harbour. The wind from SSW had a velocity of about 50 knots. As Pencarrow Head was abeam, or nearly abeam, her radar installation ceased to operate. Shortly thereafter the vessel, which to this point was on a correct course, suddenly sheered to port. At this time the wind, still from SSW, increased greatly, the sea was in a state of great turbulence, visibility was reduced to zero, and Wahine was unresponsive to her helm and became virtually out of control. Her master sought to regain control by use of helm and engines for the next 28 minutes but was unsuccessful. At about 0641 hours the starboard quarter of the vessel struck, or was flung upon, the southern extremity of Barrett Reef where the vessel grounded, and then, and shortly thereafter from further contact with the reef, suffered severe damage to her hull under water whereby sea water entered certain parts of the ship. Upon impact her starboard motor failed, followed within a few minutes by the port motor, whereupon Wahine was without propulsive power.

Wellington harbour, Point Dorset middle distance, Breaker Bay Road foreground.

Wellington Harbour. Follow the ship’s course on this diagram map in a separate window.

Wahine came off the reef, both anchors were dropped, and she dragged her anchors into the eastern entrance to Chaffers Passage, and thence along and close to the western shore north of Point Dorset with her head to the violence of wind and sea. At about 1315 hours the vessel, in the vicinity of Steeple Rock Light, and under the influence of a prematurely outgoing tidal flow, swung with her port side to the wind, and a list to starboard, which had already appeared, increased.

Wahine list

Short, Jack, active 1977. Ship Wahine sinking in Wellington Harbour – Photograph taken by Jack Short. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: PAColl-7796-85. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23198846

The order then being given at about 1320 hours to abandon ship all persons aboard left the vessel alive, but of those 734 persons 51 lost their lives thereafter.

Wahine rescue

Policeman Ray Ruane holding a young survivor of the Wahine shipwreck. Ref: EP/1968/1574/26a-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22508739

The list increased rapidly from the time abandonment was ordered and at some time after 1400 hours (this time not being precisely fixed) Wahine sank to the seabed, coming to rest upon her starboard side, …. and became a total loss. The top of the front of her bridge was distant 805 feet from Steeple Rock Light….

Wahine aerial

Aerial view of Wahine shipwreck with Seatoun in background. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1968/1571/25-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23053881

Above text extracted from the Court of Enquiry report, November 1968.

The Wahine, 8,948 gross tons, was a roll-on, roll-off ferry built by Fairfields of Govan, Scotland, for the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand. She was less than two years old at the time of her loss. The wreck was cut up where it lay over the next five years.
The Wellington-Lyttelton ferry service ended in 1976.

Read survivor stories in their own words.

W_reef

The inbound Wellington-Picton ferry Kaitaki passing Barrett Reef, February 2009.

The Hotel Cecil

I thought I would share this old postcard of London’s Embankment featuring the Hotel Cecil because, as you may be aware, the Royal Air Force had its first headquarters there when it was formed, by combining the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service, on 1st April 1918.

Image from a 1920s postcard of the Embankment with Hotel Cecil and the Savoy.

The Hotel Cecil (left) in the 1920s. The Savoy is next door.

Why did the Air Force set up shop in a hotel? Because the building had been requisitioned by the government who needed office space for all the extra administrators required to organise a world war.

The Hotel Cecil was one of those late-Victorian buildings associated with the Liberator Building Society scandal and the fraudster Jabez Balfour, but that subject is literally a book in itself. If you want to know more, I suggest you follow the link and read a review.

Searching for the hotel’s subsequent history can lead to confusion. Various sources will tell you it was built between the Embankment and The Strand in 1886 – or (majority opinion) from 1890-1896. It was one of the biggest and most luxurious hotels in the world at the time with 600, “more than 800”, or 1000 rooms. The Liberator Society built it as a hotel – or as offices, and another company finished it as a hotel when Liberator collapsed. Facts and “alternative facts”. You choose.

The Shell-Mex oil consortium bought the building in 1930, demolished the river frontage and replaced it with Shell-Mex House, a structure from the monolithic school of Art Deco architecture. The Strand entrance was retained even though it was completely at odds with the new block.

Embankment_Shell

The Embankment in the 1930s.

In 1937, Arthur Mee wrote, “This remarkable block of offices has a noble entrance from the Strand, and its courtyard is one of the sights of London by night. It has ten floors with a total floor space of 380,000 square feet, and any one of its 16 lifts runs up to the roof, from which are splendid views of South London to the Kent and Surrey hills, North London to Harrow and Hampshire, and the panorama of the East”.

Modern specifications say Mee was two floors short (at least). These were added after WWII when height restrictions were relaxed. Mee’s “noble entrance from the Strand” is “not of special interest” to Historic England today but Shell-Mex House gets a Grade II listing. And just to add more confusion, the entire complex is now commonly known as 80 The Strand.

Embankment_SM