7 Oct: Gambetta Takes Flight

Léon Gambetta took to the skies above Paris in a hot air balloon on October 7th, 1870, soaring over the enemy German soldiers that surrounded the city on his way to raise new armies to swing the Franco-Prussian war back in France’s favour.

Perhaps ill-advisedly, the charismatic statesman shouted “Vive la République!” as he went, thus attracting enemy fire which punctured his balloon, but the escape was successful, ultimately landing in an oak tree in Tours.

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly explain how 150 years ago hot air balloons came to be thought of as a convenient emergency evacuation technology; mull why Paris at night is so very beautiful, even during a siege; and explain why in a crisis it is always good to have plenty of seamstresses around…

Further Reading:

• ‘Franco-Prussian War: the conflict that plunged Europe into a nightmare’ (History Extra, 2020): https://www.historyextra.com/period/victorian/franco-prussian-war-europe-nightmare-consequences/ 

• ‘A Balloon Voyage with Gambetta’ (Appletons’ Journal of Literature, Science and Art, 1871): https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/Appletons_Journal_of_Literature_Science/_BwZAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0 

• ‘Gambetta’s balloon escape’ (wunderkammerchannel, 2022):


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The Retrospectors are Olly Mann, Rebecca Messina & Arion McNicoll, with Matt Hill.

Theme Music: Pass The Peas. Announcer: Bob Ravelli. Graphic Design: Terry Saunders. Edit Producer: Sophie King.

Copyright: Rethink Audio / Olly Mann 2022.