'Millions of Eyes Were Turned Skywards': The Air League of the British Empire, Empire Air Day, and the Promotion of Air-mindedness, 1934-9

Rowan G.E. Thompson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

This article investigates the Air League of the British Empire and its attempts to promote air-mindedness within British society in the late 1930s. It draws attention to the Air League's construction of a distinctly militarized aerial theatre-in the form of Empire Air Day (EAD)-A nd highlights the extent to which the event was embedded in popular civic ritual. Linking the themes of nation, empire, youth, and air-mindedness, the case of EAD provides important insights into the ways in which British society interacted with-A nd ascribed meaning to-technology, technological change, and modernity, in a period of high international tensions. The article shows that the Air Ministry valued the display as a vehicle for recruitment, propaganda, and as a way to project an image of military strength to domestic and foreign audiences. The display enabled the League to place before the British public a form of 'popular' militarism that was supported by large sections of British society, key military figures, members of the royal family, newspapers across the political spectrum, and by politicians of all stripes. EAD was a politically and culturally acceptable way of promoting rearmament and the military capabilities of the British state.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-307
Number of pages23
JournalTwentieth Century British History
Volume32
Issue number2
Early online date8 May 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021

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