Previously unseen airship archive photos to go on show at Pulham St Mary

Few people can recall the days when giant hydrogen-filled airships were a regular sight in the skies above Norfolk.

However, previously unseen photographs of a south Norfolk village's role as host to one of the UK's main first world war airship stations will go on show from next week.

Around 60 images, taken by the Royal Naval Air Service's official photographer, George Hamilton Wakefield, will go on display at the Pennoyer Centre in Pulham St Mary after they were recently discovered gathering dust in an old photo album.

The original prints, which document the early years of the air station at Pulham, were found in London by the Owens family – relatives of the photographer, who was based in Norfolk from about 1919 to 1926.

More than 90 years ago, the south Norfolk village was home to more than 3,000 military personnel who carried out daring missions in the airships, which were affectionately known by locals as the Pulham Pigs.

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The aircraft were used to patrol the North Sea during the first world war looking for enemy submarines and personnel would manually drop bombs off the side of the gondola slung underneath the airship.

The airfield at Upper Vaunces Farm, which is today agricultural land, was first commissioned as an air station in 1916 and was the scene of the first successful parachute drop a year later.

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The R34, which made the first east-west air crossing of the Atlantic in 1919, was also based at Pulham, which became a storage depot for crashed aircraft during the second world war.

The photographs by George Hamilton Wakefield capture scenes of the various airships that flew from Pulham and the people that were based there.

Sheila King, chairman of the Pennoyer Centre, said the 'fascinating' images were so detailed that they were being studied by airship experts.

'The family have had the album in their sideboard for several years, having found it whilst clearing out the family home. It was destined for a skip until someone looked inside and thought the airship photos might be of interest to someone.'

'Michael Owens was sitting up very late one night awaiting news of the birth of his newest grandchild, Googled Pulham and sent one off to our parish clerk, who forwarded it to me. After that, these wonderful photos started coming through,' she said.

The Pennoyer Centre has a small display about the area's aviation history and the airship festival will be held over the weekend of April 14 and 15 from 10am to 4pm with the new collection of photographs on show for the following month.

There is also an aerial black and white photograph of a village, believed to be in Norfolk, which centre staff are trying to identify for the exhibition.

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