At the forthcoming Utopian Spaces conference in Oxford, I shall be giving a paper on Kipling’s military Utopia, The Army of a Dream. Since this first appeared in the Morning Post newspaper in 1904, I though I might do some light research into the history of the newspaper.
W.Hindle’s history of the Morning Post did not mention Kipling’s story, though it slightly illuminated the context, and it did tell a story I had not come across before.
In 1910, Lady Bathurst, the proprietor of the paper, visited Germany, saw one of the new Zeppelins and, according to Kindle, ‘noted how even the poorest contributed to their cost’. On her return, the Morning Post therefore opened a fund to provide the British Army with an airship. It was built in France, and was of the Lebaudy type, semi-rigid and of 350,000 cubic feet gas capacity. It could move at 32 miles per hour.
The airship was flown from France to Farnborough, where the War Office had built a special shed for her. To quote Kindle: As she was entering the shed, Lord Roberts who was watching, said, ‘It fits like a glove – not an inch to spare.’ His comment proved an understatement. Owing to some misunderstanding, sufficient clearance had not been allowed at the roof of the shed.’
The envelope caught in the roof girders and was ripped. Afterwards the height of the shed was altered and the airship was rebuilt. But then, on a trial flight, she came into collision with a house, and was totally wrecked.
It’s a sad farcical story, but a couple of things occur top me. The first is the obvious one, about how odd it is for the readers of a newspaper to be subscribing together to buy the Army the latest technology. These days the papers often complain that our soldiers in Afghanistan are ill-equipped – maybe the Sun should start a whip-round.
The second is that when The Army of a Dream was published in Traffics and Discoveries later in 1904, the volume also included Kipling’s most enigmatic story, Mrs Bathurst. I’ve read many interpretations of that tale, but I don’t think I’ve come across one that links it with the remarkable Countess, airship enthusiast and owner of the Morning Post, Lilias Margaret Frances Bathurst [née Borthwick], whose principal publication, according to the ODNB, was The Breeding of Foxhounds (1926). I wonder if there’s any mileage in that…