Recording Bomber Command

February 13, 2009

In the lecture this week I used an excerpt from a BBC recording of a Lancaster Raid over Berlin in September 1943. You can listen to part of the recording, and the news broadcast from which it came, at the BBC Wales on Air History Site. You can see a picture of Vaughan Thomas and the recording engineer who accompanied him in F for Freddie here. If you’d like to listen to more BBC radio broadcasts from the war, including a number by Vaughan Thomas, you could use the Old Time Radio site here.

The immediacy of the commentary made me think about other ways in which both world wars were represented to non-combatants (whether at home, or to all those in the forces who weren’t in combat at any one point). In the British Army on the Western Front course this week, we looked at the new, digitally remastered edition of the Battle of the Somme film. The National Archives have their own youtube channel now, where you can see an extract from the old, unimproved film stock. Read the rest of this entry »


Week 6 reflection

February 13, 2009

This was a week I think I will change for the next time I run the course. Although the technology of Bomber Command is vital to understanding its war, I’m not sure that it needs a seminar as well. Or rather, I haven’t yet worked out how to pitch the seminar in such a way as to encourage discussion: both seminars ended up being broader discussions of effectiveness and morality. I enjoyed both, and its perhaps inevitable that the same week that the book reviews have to be submitted, not all students had engaged equally with the theme. But I’m not sure how much further we pushed our collective understanding.
On the other hand, the content of the seminar discussions did encourage me to think that the dual book reviews have worked pedagogically. First, the combination of Taylor and Friedrich has meant students can apply comparative force between the two, improving their analysis of both. Second, the sheer increase in students’ knowledge base since the start of term has been remarkable. If we compared this week’s seminars with where we were back in January, I think the rate of progress has been really impressive.

Workers’ Weekend

February 9, 2009

An Imperial War Museum page with an excerpt from ‘Workers’ Weekend’, a film made to chart the construction of a Wellington bomber in an aircraft factory by workers who chose to come in specially to complete the job in their spare time. It seems to have been aimed at an American audience and designed to show the sacrifices British workers were making.

Anybody fancy flying in an aircraft completed as a rush job, with no extra pay, after workers had already finished their normal week?

Week 5 reflection

February 9, 2009

A bit of a difficult week, with snow stopping play for the first couple of days, everyone getting tired and busy as we head towards the mid term break, and economics and engineering to discuss. In the lecture I tried to do three things – make clear how expensive Bomber Command was, particularly in relation to the relatively small number of men in combat at any one time; explore some of the key points for discussion about the British aircraft industry; and put that cost and industrial effort into the context of Britain’s war economy as a whole. Even writing that down makes it clear it was far too much. Normally in the future I will have expected students to take a course on Britain in the Second World War as a prerequisite for The Whirlwind – I think it’s vital that students should be introduced to the idea of how the war economy resulted in a more total civilian effort, but it would probably be better if I didn’t try to fit this all into 50 minutes. The seminars seemed a bit flat to me – through no fault of the responsible groups. Perhaps the contrasting views put forward in the reading (Barnett’s chapter on the air industry, Edgerton’s review, Ritchie’s closer analysis) are just too different to result in discussion – although the second seminar group did a good job of highlighting the differences in approach and use of evidence between these authors. Or maybe Ritchie, in particular, just destroys Barnett’s interpretation too successfully. Perhaps it would be better to explore the historiography in the lecture, and then to make the seminar an exploration of the implications for British economy and society of fighting a bomber war? Just setting students to analyse this clip, for instance, might have been a better place to start:

There’s plenty of good material to spark discussion here, particularly emphasising the representation of aircraft factory workers, but again it might need students to have been introduced previously to the economic consequences of the war. The footage of the Stirling’s incredibly complicated undercarriage (the aircraft was described by one crew member as looking like a cross between a flying boat and a load of scaffolding) would be a good way to link into next week’s seminar on technology.

Book reviews

February 5, 2009

We spent some time in the seminar yesterday talking about book reviews, and I said that I’d use a post here to add more and clear up some technical points.

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