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Centenery celebrations of Norfolk airship's record-breaking flight

PUBLISHED: 08:55 10 July 2019 | UPDATED: 08:56 12 July 2019

The R34 airship, nicknamed 'Tiny' on account of its vast size, which carried out the first round trip to the United States a century ago. Picture: Diss Museum

The R34 airship, nicknamed 'Tiny' on account of its vast size, which carried out the first round trip to the United States a century ago. Picture: Diss Museum

Archant

Norfolk is hosting a weekend of centenary celebrations of one of the great feats of aviation, the first double airborne crossing of the Atlantic.

Engineering officer John Shotter, left, with Brig Gen Edward Maitland aboard R34. Photo: Archant LibraryEngineering officer John Shotter, left, with Brig Gen Edward Maitland aboard R34. Photo: Archant Library

It is 100 years since the historic two-way trans-Atlantic voyage by the R34 airship which was based at Pulham St Mary. The village achieved international fame when the massive 634ft aircraft landed at Pulham Air Station following its epic journey of some 3,130 miles.

The British airship had taken off from East Fortune in Scotland in July 1919, with a crew of 30, plus one stowaway, who was discovered mid-Atlantic, and crossed to Mineola, Long Island, before coming back to land at Pulham on July 13, 1919.

Under the command of Major George Scott, the crew included Brigadier-General Edward Maitland Maitland and Zachary Lansdowne as the representative of the US Navy.

The record-breaking feat is being marked with a R34 Centenary Weekend at the Pennoyer Centre in Pulham St Mary on July 13-14 including a R34 exhibition with previously unseen material, recorded highlights of Brig Gen Maitland's log book, airship films, memorabilia and even a full scale R34 'crop circle' to visit. There will also be a vintage fete with old fashioned games and live music.

On the Sunday there be a series of special talks including Major Jack Pritchard's personal account told by his granddaughter, Wendy Pritchard using material from the Pritchard Family Archive.

Day Pulham Market welcomed home transatlantic airship hero Jack Pritchard 100 years ago

The landing party had no experience of handling large rigid airships, so Major E. M. Pritchard jumped by parachute, becoming the first person to reach American soil by air from Europe.

John Edward Maddock Pritchard, known as Jack, whose distinguished airship career was touched by triumph and tragedy. Picture: Archant LibraryJohn Edward Maddock Pritchard, known as Jack, whose distinguished airship career was touched by triumph and tragedy. Picture: Archant Library

Meanwhile Diss Corn Hall is hosting a new musical called 'All aboard the R34 - Wopsie and the Airship' by local composer Peter Creswell, who lives in Redgrave.

Commissioned by Basil Abbott, head of the Diss Museum, the musical, based on the actual log of the R34's perilous voyage, provides an original, amusing and unusual look at the story.

He said: "William Ballantyne, one of the crew members scheduled to stay behind to save weight, stowed away with a small tabby kitten called Wopsie.

Diss Museum manager Basil Abbott in the guise of General Maitland of the R34 airship. Picture: Diss MuseumDiss Museum manager Basil Abbott in the guise of General Maitland of the R34 airship. Picture: Diss Museum

"When they emerged at 2pm on the first day, it was too late to drop them off and the kitten immediately became the crew mascot."

Other events in Diss will begin on Saturday at 11am with a piper in the Market Place acknowledging the Scots origins of the voyage, followed by period dancers at 11.30am, 12.30pm, 2pm and 3pm. There will be memorabilia stalls outside the museum and a children's treasure hunt. Inside the museum is an exhibition with augmented reality, while a R34 blimp will also be seen over Diss.

On Sunday morning there will be a R34 themed church service at 10.30am in St. Mary's, with film, slides, period hymns and readings in character from the R34 Log.

- All Aboard The R34! is at Diss Corn Hall on July 13, 7.30pm, tickets £15.

'Pulham Pigs'

'Pulham Pigs' was the nickname given to the airships stationed at Pulham St Mary - so named because of their buff-colour similar to the colour of a pig's skin.

Pulham was chosen as the site for an Airship Station just before the First World War. The land was bought in great secrecy, so that enemies couldn't find out what was planned.

From 1915 until the 1930s, airships from Pulham travelled the world. The R34 is probably the most famous thanks to its record-breaking two-way trip that took seven days 15 hours and 15 minutes (not including the three day stopover in the US). The return journey took just over 75 hours landing back in Pulham on July 13, 1919.



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