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Web person at the Imperial War Museum, just completed PhD about digital sustainability in museums (the original motivation for this blog was as my research diary). Posting occasionally, and usually museum tech stuff but prone to stray. I welcome comments if you want to take anything further. These are my opinions and should not be attributed to my employer or anyone else (unless they thought of them too). Twitter: @jottevanger

Friday, February 21, 2014

Collections distractions #4: A schoolboy describes a burning zeppelin to his father

Here's a letter I stumbled across a while back, not a surprise as such but startlingly real. It's a letter in which a boy tells his father, in quite a considered, illustrated account, about the burning of a zeppelin right by the house to which he had, I suppose, been evacuated. All four pages can be read in these high-res scans: sheet 1; sheet 2.

Zeppelins were terrifying new technology and were responsible (amongst other things) for many civilian deaths in WW1. They must also have been quite terrifying to be on, being so slow, visible and ludicrously flammable. I was reminded of all of this, and particularly this letter, today whilst talking to some of the people I met at Who Do You Think You Are Live. A gentleman from the RAF Museum told me how it had taken until the middle of the war to realise that, by combining some technologies that had been around for a decade or more, it was possible to set light to enemy balloons (not actually in the way that happened in this account, though, with an incendiary bomb dropped from an aircraft above).

And it all brought back my very first week at IWM, 4 years back, when we new recruits did an object handling session. The mystery object that my group was given turned out to be a felt overboot, worn outside the leather boots of a zeppelin airman (it gets damn cold up there). It was recovered from a Suffolk field after its owner jumped to escape a conflagration of the sort that Patrick Blundstone described. The felt was still blackened from the burning hydrogen.
This is not the boot, but it's not dissimilar:

Boot (felt), Imperial German
Boot (felt), Imperial German © IWM (UNI 12723)

As always, remember that I'm not a historian and many or all of the statements in this post may be incorrect!

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