Phantom aeroplanes and cartoons of the Kaiser

Published 06 March 2014

Kaiser Wilhelm cartoonPolitical cartoons of Kaiser Wilhelm and mysterious panic-inducing aeroplanes on the home front were some of the lesser known aspects of the Great War, revealed by two UNE historians invited to speak at the first major international conference to mark 100 years since the beginning of the First World War.

Dr Richard Scully and Dr Brett Holman attended the four-day conference, “the British Empire and the Great War – Colonial Societies and Cultural Responses,” at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore in February.

Dr Scully presented a paper that examined the use of political comic art around the world to stoke public outrage towards Germany in the early stages and during the War.

“Kaiser Wilhelm is still among history’s most recognisable personalities. His upturned moustache was a gift to cartoonists, and due to the popularity of political cartoons, everybody knew who the enemy was: the Kaiser and all he stood for,” Dr Scully said.

“The ‘Kaiser cartoons’ are notable among the well-known hate cartoons of the First World War. Even Hitler was not so systematically equated with the evil of the enemy. What is particularly significant about this genre of cartoons is its global nature. Wilhelm was demonised across Western Europe, the Russian Empire, Asia, Africa and, of course, Australasia.”

Dr Holman’s paper addressed the strange wartime phenomenon known as ‘Mystery Aeroplanes.’

“During the war, mysterious aeroplane appearances caused significant panic on the home-front in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. By the end of the war, around 200 reports had been received of mysterious aeroplanes seen or heard in Australia. The mystery aeroplanes were born of wartime fears of subversion and defeat: in a moment of extreme anxiety, Australians feared an attack from Germany – and thought they saw one.”

In 2014 UNE will be coordinating a number of events to mark the centenary since the outbreak of WWI, including a public conference on ‘Regional Australia at War,’ organised by Dr Nathan Wise from UNE’s School of Humanities.

Dr Scully says that the centenary of the outbreak of the war that shaped our national identity is the ideal opportunity for those with an interest in history to undertake study at UNE.

“Those interested in studying the Great War and its legacies are well catered for at UNE. Units focusing on the First World War and War and Australian Society are both available for students. Historians in the School of Humanities are also keen to supervise independent research projects looking at all aspects of the war, from the global to the local perspectives.”