From MUFOB new series 10, Spring 1978
For his contribution to the tenth anniversary issue of MUFOB, Nigel Watson revealed some of the delights of historical ufology!
As a law-abiding citizen, I now and again partake of the duty of looking through musty old newspapers in search of items of Fortean or ufological interest. Recently I have been checking on the 1909 airship sightings which were recorded by Carl Grove in his two-part article entitled “The Airship Wave of 1909″ (Flying Saucer Review, Vol 16, no 6 and vol 17, no 1).
Despite a thorough search, the Lincolnshire Chronicle for May and June 1909 doesn’t bother mentioning the airship scare. The Doncaster Gazette and the Lincoln Leader both published similar items, except that the Leader‘s article was a little more detailed and also contained information on the more spectacular Caerphilly mountain episode and other Welsh sightings, (cases nos 30 and 31 in the Grove articles) which were barely discernible due to some fiend having hacked a piece out of this particular section. Unfortunately both papers only mentioned the sighting by PC Kettle of a powerfal light over Peterborough on 23rd March 1909, which they explained as a sighting of a light with a Chinese lantern attached.
The ‘hoax’ letter written by a Major Hayfield of Pinchbeck Road, Spalding (INTCAT no. 68) was given mention with some derision: We really cannot take any notice of it. It is too ludicrous”, said Canon Bullock. Apparently none of these papers received any sightings themselves, which was disappointing for my bleary eyes.
In 1909 Britain had an Empire with a capital ‘E’, so we took a dim view of any Imperialistic foreigners on the horizon. Since little green men and saucers from Mars were not too well though of in 1909, the phantom airship was regarded as a German Zeppelin spy-craft on a sinister mission… Or… it was regarded as a load of rubbish; as seems to be the view of the above papers, who tended to blame the scare on the London press.
Thoughtfully, the Lincoln Leader of the 5th June decided to reassure its readership with an item entitled “Mr Lupton on Air-Ships and Scare-ships”. Mr Arnold Lupton M.P., an authority on the use of explosives (essential knowledge for a politician, I should imagine) was interviewed by the (London) Evening News, where he claimed that
“If London was to be destroyed by bombs thrown from balloons it would require a fleet of 200,000 Zeppelin balloons, each costing not less than £20,000, or equal to £4,000,000,000. They would also need 600,000 devoted aeronauts to throw them.”
With such a reassuring Member of Parliament the Bulldog Breed could sleep safely, secure in the knowledge that technology had not yet caught up with the problem of the aeriel bombardment of distant targets on as effective scale.
There are probably many more ‘airship’ sightings to be discovered in the local papers from 1909 and 1913 (from preliminary findings there was more coverage of the 1913 scare) and such research is liable to reveal more useful information than that obtained by skywatches and the like.
The Caerphilly Mountain incident which involved Mr Lethbridge seeing a tubuar object with foreign speaking men next to it caused the biggest sensation in the press of the period, and was subjected to scepticism and laughter from the journalistic fraternity. Typically, Punch jumped at the opportunity given by this encounter, and the Lincoln Leader of the 29th May quoted, in its “Wit of the Week” column, the following lampoon:
THE EVERYWHERE SHIP: LATEST REPORT:
Harpenden – A suspicious looking foreigner was seen here yesterday on the common. A watch was kept on him, and he was seen after dark in an un-frequented spot to be busy with a cigar-shaped looking object which had a brilliantly coloured band round the middle. Every now and then a light would appear at the end of the object and almost immediately to go out, to the accompaniment of gutteral expletives in a foreign tongue. The object is of a brownish colour, and seems to require constant attention from its owner. Three dozen wooden matches and a box with foreign words on it were found near the spot where the stranger was observed at work on the instrument described above, and it is though that he was engaged in making strenuous efforts to get it going. Intense excitement prevails.
Later – The coloured band referred to (which also has foreign words on it) has just been found and forwarded to the Board of Trade.