Presented to the Club by Richard L. Floyd on Monday evening, January 25, 2010
As the first Monday Evening Club paper of a new decade I want to do some looking backward as well as gazing forward. Looking backward is not so hard, since we all have 20/20 hindsight, but gazing forward is more difficult. It was Søren Kierkegaard who once said, “Life must be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.” So let me do the easy part first and look backward, telling a couple of brief stories about two men who were born in the late Nineteenth Century, came of age in the early part of the Twentieth, and lived long lives in which they witnessed technological advances unparalleled in any other period of human history. Then I will briefly try to look forward to take some guesses about “what’s next?”
Originally a Navy man, Allingham was first assigned as a mechanic, and later a spotter, to a unit that carried out anti-submarine air patrols for the newly formed RAF. Keep in mind that the Wright brothers’ first flight had been launched as recently as 1903, so airplanes were just a decade old when the Great War broke out, and this would be the first significant use of them in war. The Sopwith Schneider seaplane that Henry’s unit flew to look for German U-boats and other ships was really nothing more than a big box kite with an engine. It had to be lifted by cranes in and out of the water from a ship every time it went on a mission. The plane carried no parachute, no navigational instruments, save a map and a compass, no radio, only a carrier pigeon. To us it sounds primitive, yet at the time air flight was so new that it was cutting-edge technology. Today those fliers needn’t have risked their lives in reconnaissance missions. They could rely on satellites.