The R38 Airship in flight - this airship was built and tested here and crashed in the River Humber 90 years ago on Aug 24 1921 with the loss of 44 lives.
(Image shown with permission from The Airship Heritage Trust)
Work started on the R38 by Shorts in 1919 but wasn't completed until 1921 after they had returned to Rochester. The whole airship programme had been dramatically cut at the end of the First World War and due to severe financial constraints it was agreed that the US would purchase this airship with their personnel to be trained in the UK. The ship would then be flown back to America with a US crew. The airship left Cardington in June 1921 and flew to Howden for further testing. During a test flight on August 24th with a half American, half British crew the ship crashed in the River Humber near Hull claiming 44 lives leaving just five survivors. It is known that the R38 held trial flights here and it is highly likely that some of the British crew stayed in Shortstown at the time.
It is a very sad fact that very little is remembered about this airship in Bedford today but news of the crash and subsequent loss of lives must have been a devastating blow to the people who had worked on the ship in the years between 1919-1921.
These workers would have included draughtsmen, engineers, carpenters, riggers and many others some of whom would have lived in the newly constructed houses in Shortstown.
There would also have been teams of women who spent hundreds of hours cleaning and gluing together the moleskins which made up the outer skin of the ship.
There are scant records of early residents of the village but in a letter written by a Mr Gordine who lived in Shortstown as a child from 1918 to the mid 1920's he recalls the R38 crash:
Engineer Alfred George Hastings.A R38 crew member who was not on the final R38 flight.
We all spent the night gathered around the gates waiting for the news especially one survivor named Potter.' It is known that Walter Potter (left above) had been in the area around this time. He returned to Shortstown as part of the R101 programme and lived here from 1925-1930. Sadly he lost his life in the R101 crash. Potter Meadows in the new development in Shortstown is named after Walter.
Survivor Flight Sergeant Walter Potter. It is known that Walter had been in the village in 1921.
From a press release prior to the R101 flight to India we know that Alfred Hastings (above right) had also been assigned to the R38 and it is possible he had stayed in the village during the R38 years. Fortunately he was not on the ship when it crashed. He later moved to Shortstown with the R101 team and lived here in 1930 - like Walter Potter he was killed in the R101 crash.
Engineer Frank Browdie pictured far left was also part of the R38 team and again may have lived here earlier. This man was a highly experienced airship crew member and had been on board the triumphant R34 trip to America in 1919. Electoral registers show that he lived in Shortstown from 1930 - 1939. It is not known what happened to him after this time - he may have enlisted to serve in WW2. Please make contact if you have information about him.
Frank Noble pictured left was also attached to the R101 team and lived in the village from 1929-1930. Again please make contact if you know anything about him.
Sent in by Mr Brian Gouldesbrough this photograph shows some of the British crew attached to the R38. Can anyone put a name to some of these men? It is of special interest to Shortstown as it is most likely that a few of them lived in the houses here or in the huts on the camp originally built in 1917 to house the naval officers attached to the R31 and R32 airships also built by the Short Brothers. Please get in touch if you can help with this research as information about the R38 crew members is very sparse and proving extremely difficult to gather. Thanks must go to Brian for sending in this photograph.
If you have any information about anyone who worked on this airship please make contact - the R38 was very important to the economy of Bedford at the time and provided work for hundreds of people who would otherwise have been unemployed. The fate of the R38 effectively brought to an end the first phase of Shortstowns history.
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