Biogs of notable people.
This section is by no means complete and other people will be added in the coming months. There were many exceptional individuals in the airship world not just those that flew them but also designers and constructors who were breaking new ground and under intense pressure to succeed. As is often in wartime it seems to be a case of “cometh the hour, cometh the man” and these people didn’t disappoint. A surprising number of them went on to shine in other fields building on the experience gained during the relatively short airship era.
Below is an extract from an article in the Chippenham Evening Post in 1968 reporting on the lifetime of resident Fred Browdie. I was thrilled to come across this article as I had wondered what had happened to him when he left Shortstown in 1939 having lived there since 1930.
“After taking part in this year’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Royal Air Force, Mr Fred Browdie of 136, Sheldon Rd Chippenham is looking forward to another jubilee next year. Mr Browdie was a member of the crew of the airship R34 which in July 1919 made the first aerial double crossing of the Atlantic.
He is one of 5 remaining survivors and it is hoped to arrange a reunion to mark the occasion. A native of Chippenham Mr Browdie joined the Royal Navy in September 1914 as a boy and transferred to the Royal Navy Air Service in 1915. He was serving with them on April 1 1918 when the RAF was formed on the amalgamation with the Royal Flying Corp - so that he is a founder member of the RAF. Mr Browdie was concerned with the development of airships and flew as a crew member. Whilst on submarine spotting duties as an observer on the Dover patrol he was shot down off Ostend and was picked up after four hours in the water by a fishing boat from Folkestone. He worked on the Rigid Airship R9, R31 and R32 as well as a high altitude ship R80. Then came the historic flight across the Atlantic on the R34 in July 1919.
Ten years later he was a member of the test crew of the R101 which crashed in France on the way to her maiden flight to India. Mr Browdie was on all her trials which took her all round Britain. He was a member of her reserve crew when she set off on that tragic maiden flight, and as such was to be flown by plane to Egypt to take over the continuation flight to India. Many of the people who watched her leave had a presentiment of impending disaster as the trials had not been entirely satisfactory.
When airships were abandoned Mr Browdie continued with the Air Ministry as a civilian until he retired three and a half years ago. He served at Cardington, Locking, Hullavington, Wroughton, and Loughton and is the holder of the Imperial Service Medal. Mr Browdie has lived in Chippenham since 1939 and is treasurer of the Chippenham branch of the Royal Air Forces Association."
The following obituary for Ralph Sleigh Booth is taken from The Flight magazine dated 25.09.1969 .
One of the best-known men in British airship history, Wg Cdr R. S. Booth, died on September 12th at the age of 74. Air Marshal Sir Victor Goddard, who knew him well, writes:—
“When the submarine menace loomed in 1915, the Admiralty directed Jellicoe to send midshipmen from the Grand Fleet to become captains of non-existent submarine searcher airships. Ralph Booth, aged 20, was the senior of the batch who, with blueprints, wire and fabric, rigged aeroplane fuselages to gas envelopes, made a fleet of 30 S.S. airships and flew them all within as many weeks. Booth's was S.S.I. That autumn she was destroyed by fire when landing in fog.
By the end of the war Booth had become captain of the R.24 and one of the first in the Air Force to win the AFC. As captain of the R.33 in 1921 he pioneered "mast mooring” and, when his ship was torn by storm from the tower at Pulham, he and a skeleton crew, after a three-day struggle with fabric and storm, brought her back; he was honoured by George V and promoted squadron leader.
Booth was the natural choice for command of R.100. He flew her to Montreal and back in 1930—a flight and a ship which marked the zenith of British airship achievement, soon to be terminated by the R.101 disaster.
Booth, already qualified as an aeroplane pilot in 1926, was "grounded" by deafness in 1932. The RAF then lost a potential high commander of outstanding quality. Relegated to the development of navigational instruments, Wg Cdr Booth exercised an influence both profound and unsung. Soon after World War Two he retired into civil voluntary public service, punctuated with occasional advisory excursions into airship and balloon ventures, until death overtook him on September 12.
Ralph Booth was probably the most admired and respected member of the Airship Service of the RNAS/RAF. The qualities which shone through his quietness in the air, in the field of sport and in all his work and relationships never failed."
Charles Ivor Rae Campbell O.B.E. was born in 1878 and studied engineering at the Royal Naval College at Keyham and marine engineering and naval architecture at the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. By 1903 he was Assistant Constructor in the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors.
He was then transferred to the staff of the Director of Naval Construction at the Admiralty and was mainly concerned with the design of submarines.
In 1909 he was appointed Admiralty overseer of submarines and was based at Barrow and later Newcastle. At the start of WW1 he was sent to the US and Canada to supervise the construction of submarines. By Oct 1915 he had returned and was appointed overseer of the airship design and construction department.
Although work had already begun on the first rigid airships Campbell was able to implement changes and oversaw work in airships R27, R29, R31, R32, R33, R34 and R38. Given his sudden switch from submarines to airships his workload and responsibilities would have been tremendous.
After the war ended and following a series of restructures airship construction was transferred to the Air Ministry and after the abrupt departure of the Short brothers from Cardington Ivor Campbell was appointed superintendent of the Royal Airship Works. He was to lose his life in the R38 crash.
Stanley James Durston "A Pioneer of Airship Design" The following information is taken from a Bedford Times news article in Sept 1961 about a former resident of Shortstown Stanley Durston. In the article Stanley is described as "A Pioneer of Airship Design."
He was born in 1888 and by 1916 we find him working for The Admiralty as a draughtsman. During the First World War aerial attacks became a feature of modern warfare and German Zeppelins began raids on British soil. At this time and indeed for many years after German airship design was far superior to anything the British had.
When any of the German airships were shot down in the course of the war staff from the Admiralty would eagerly sift through the wreckage to glean any information as to the design of the ship. Using his skills as a draughtsman Stanley Durston was part of this team and his experience of rigid airships and kite balloons was to continue for the rest of his working life. Certainly rigid airships built at Cardington in the early years were based on designs copied from the German airships so Stanley’s work cannot be underestimated. We also learn that Stanley worked alongside and had great admiration for Mr Campbell the head of the ill-fated R38 team who was to lose his life when that ship crashed in 1921 killing 44 men. Because of his close connection to the R38 airship it is possible that Stanley was residing in Shortstown before 1925 but as there are no records for the early years we cannot confirm this.
Stanley went on to serve at Cardington for many years after the demise of the airships later becoming Designer in Charge of The Kite Balloon Design and Drawing Office.
Left is a photo of Daisy Exley (nee Bird) a long term resident of Shortstown who first arrived in our village with her family in 1925 when her father began work at the Royal Airship Works. It is not known what her father did at the RAW but as the family lived on The Highway where most of the senior staff were posted we can assume he had quite a responsible position. Daisy was 14 when she arrived in Shortstown and in 1928 at the age of 17 she herself began work on the airships joining her mother and siblings across the road from where she lived. During the R101 years Daisy was employed in the Fabric Shop working on the outer cover of the airship. According to an interview she gave to the Bedford Record in 1976 she thoroughly enjoyed her time working there and got to know all of the crew. Understandably she is quoted as saying that she “cried her heart out” on hearing the news of the crash in 1930. After the crash she along with hundreds of employees was made redundant when the airship programme was halted.
However she was not quite finished with the station yet and from 1936 to 1945 again worked in the Fabric Shop rising to become an inspector. During these years Cardington was the main centre for the production of balloons/ parachutes, dummy decoy vehicles, and dinghies and Daisy inspected all of these. At this time according to electoral records Daisy was still in Shortstown but had moved to East Square where she was still living at the time of her newspaper interview (in November 1976). After the war ended Daisy again found herself redundant as the work at Cardington changed but 4 years later in 1949 she was back this time working in the Royal Aircraft Establishment researching and testing the new hovercrafts. Daisy remained working at Cardington until Oct 1976 when she retired and in later years moved to Elstow. A true Cardington veteran.
Foreman Engineer Henry James Leech was one of the survivors of the R101 crash and was awarded The Albert Medal for his bravery in rescuing Arthur Disley (wireless operator) from the burning wreckage of the airship despite suffering serious burns himself. He was presented with this medal by King George in 1931. He was already the holder of an Air Force Medal for gallantry gained in WWI. Harry lived in Shortstown from 1925-1930.
Here is the information sent in from his nephew Ron. 'Harry joined the R.N.A.S in 1916 and was awarded the Air Force Medal in 1919. He married the widow of a fellow airship engineer and had two children. His son, Stephen, was a Sgt in the R.A.F and was killed in an air crash in 1938 at Hamble, Hampshire. The aircraft type in question - a Miles Magister - was subject to an enquiry as to its safety. His stepson Arthur had been killed two years earlier in a motor cycle crash.'
He was also an engineer together with Leo Villa for Sir Malcolm Campbell and his son Donald during their World Speed Records. Harry himself was partially blinded when returning from Coniston in a car driven by Lady Campbell which crashed.I knew my uncle quite well. In fact I stayed with them for some months in Southampton during the war, and again afterwards. Two of my recollections of this period in my life were being amazed at the air raid shelter which Harry had made out of an old ship's boiler and fully furnished it inside, and of Donald Campbell turning up in his Bentley with the rear seats removed so that he could carry parts of The Bluebird to Harry!
The message written on this photograph reads 'To Harry Leech, one of the very best of good fellows, and with whom I am proud to have been associated. From Malcolm Campbell. Daytona Beach 1932.'
'He was a brilliant engineer and worked at the University of Southampton, and later at the South Hants Hospital where he also helped develop and build a 'Caesium Unit for the treatment of malignant disease in the late 1950's.'
Harry Leech died aged 77 in November 1967
I must express my grateful thanks to Mr Ron Bull, the nephew of Harry Leech who has been kind enough to send these wonderful photographs in and share his memories of Harry with us. Mr Bull has lived in Perth, Australia for the last 55 years having moved there since leaving the British Army (Essex Regiment) Thank you Mr Bull!
*This information first appeared on the Shortstown Heritage website now closed.
Hilda Lyons was educated at Cambridge. She joined the RAW as a Technical Assistamt working alongside such people as Roxbee Cox.and Arthur Pugsley. She was interested in stress analysis and was highly regarded by her colleagues. In 1929 she won the prestigious R38 Memorial Prize for her paper “The Strength of Traverse Frame Rigid Airships” which was a rare honour for a woman. She left Cardington in 1930 and had a highly successful career in aeronautical design.
On June 27th 2019 a blue plaque for Hilda Lyon was unveiled at her birthplace at Market Weighton Town Hall, East Yorks.
A true pioneer of lighter than air aviation Air Commodore Edward Maitland, CMG, DSO, AFC, FRGS had a very interesting service career. He began in the army, transferred to the RNAS, and then later to the RAF. Edward Maitland was born in Little Shelford, Cambs in 1880. In 1900 he was a second lieutenant with the Essex Regiment and served in South Africa. It is not known where he learnt to fly balloons but along with two others he flew a balloon from England to Russia in 1908. The following year he was attached to the Balloon School at Farnborough but also flew early airplanes. However following an air crash in which he broke both legs he concentrated on ballooning and airships deeming them to be the future.
By August 1911 Maitland was serving with the Royal Engineers' Air Battalion and appointed Officer Commanding No. 1 Company, Air Battalion. In 1914, when all army airships were taken under the control of the Navy he transferred to the Royal Naval Air Service. During this period he was serving in France and noted the superiority of the French kite balloons and recommended these to the War Office. This led to his next posting which was Head of the Kite Balloon School at Roehampton. By 1916 we find him as CO at Pulham airship station which was rapidly growing as an experimental base and it is here that Maitland really pushed for the use of parachutes. He was always the first to take part in testing and it is this fearless support of parachutes that he is most remembered for. Indeed in July 1917 he was awarded a DSO for his services as per below.
Citation for the award of the Distinguished Service Order
“Wing Capt. Edward Maitland, R.N.A.S. In recognition of valuable and gallant work in connection with airships and parachutes. He has carried out experiments at his own personal risk, and has made some descents under enemy fire.” (London Gazette – 20 July 1917)
In April 1918 the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps merged to form the RAF so Maitland now found himself serving with the RAF. In 1919 he was promoted to Air Commodore. That same year he was aboard the R34 airship on its flight to America and back. Sadly this very brave man lost his life in August 1921 when the R38 airship crashed in the Humber with the loss of 44 lives.
Edward Alexander Dimsdale Masterman was yet another airship man who went on to have an exceptional career. He was born on 15.04.1880 and entered the Britannia Naval College and by 1896 was Midshipman on HMS Revenge. In 1904 he took a Torpedo Specialist course and four years later he qualified as a Russian interpreter. By 1908 he commanded his own ship HMS Vesuvius but in 1911 took part in work on the Mayfly the first rigid airship. In 1912 he transferred to the Naval Airship section and was to spend the next 6 years designing and testing airships. In 1914 he commanded Farnborough Airship Station then moved on to be Assistant Superintendent of Airship Construction (Lighter than Air.) It was around this time that he along with Commander N F Usborne designed the new faster non rigid airships.
Crucially in 1916 he became Officer Commanding, Rigid Airship Flight and trialled all British rigids built up to 1918 first based in Barrow and then at Howden which became a major training base. Given his all-round experience of firstly non rigids and later rigid airships it came as a surprise when he later transferred to the RAF effectively severing all airship links. Edward Masterman went on to become Air Commodore. He died in 1957.
Nevil Shute Norway was born in 1899 at Ealing London. In 1918 he completed training at the Royal Military Academy. Whilst at Oxford he worked unpaid at the de Havilland Aircraft Co. and joined them full time on completion of his degree and learned to fly. It was also at this time that he began writing novels. In 1924 he joined Vickers as Chief Calculator and worked on the R100 airship alongside Barnes Wallis and was on board the successful flight of that airship to Montreal Canada in August 1930. In his book Slide Rule which charts his work on the airship he was highly critical of the R101.
During his time working on the R100 his writing took off and he began to have some of his novels published under the name of Neville Shute. Following the crash of the R101 and the end of the airship programme he established his own aircraft construction company, Airspeed Ltd, which was highly successful. However in 1938 he left the company and with the outbreak of war in 1939 he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and worked in the Admiralty's Miscellaneous Weapon Development Department.
When the war was over he moved to Australia and concentrated on his writing and produced some very successful books most notably A Town Like Alice and On the Beach which amongst others were made in to films. Neville Norway Shute died in 1960 but his books are still well known today.
Alfred Grenville Pugsley was born in 1903 and began life as a civil engineering apprentice at the Royal Woolwich Arsenal before moving on to the Royal Airship Works. Alfred worked in the design team and went on to have a distinguished career in structural engineering and aeronautical research. He was knighted in 1956.
Below is a tribute to him found on line by Lord Chilver of Cranfield written as part of 19 page study of his life for the Royal Society following the death of Alfred in 1998.
“Alfred Pugsley was one of the leading structural engineering scientists of his generation. He brought new concepts of scientific understanding to important areas of structural engineering. His perceptive observation and thought enabled him to make a lasting contribution to the understanding of key factors in designing safe structures. His early work was of great importance to aeronautics; in his later career he contributed significantly to modern civil engineering structures. During his long and fruitful life he made a unique contribution to our understanding of engineering structures, enabling engineers to approach the design of safe structures both in aeronautics and civil engineering in more rational and effective ways.”
Major George Herbert Scott was the Captain of the R34 Airship on its famous transatlantic voyage on 2nd July 1919 from East Fortune, near Edinburgh, via Newfoundland to New York and back. This was the first time an aircraft had successfully flown from one continent to another, landed, refuelled, and returned without loss of life or unsustainable damage. The officers of the crew received Air Force Crosses with the exception of Scott who already had one. He was awarded a CBE, which was considered a bit downbeat since previous RAF officers who had successfully crossed the Atlantic had been knighted.
Major Scott was a regular RN engineer who had transferred from the RNAS to the RFC and subsequently to the RAF. It was whilst he worked at Pulham Air Station in Norfolk that under him much experimental work in the mooring of airships to masts was carried out. Pulham’s 120ft high mast was the first in Europe and Pulham played an important role in obtaining data for the ‘Imperial Communications’ program of the 1920s, which was to link the British Empire via the Imperial Airship Routes for which the giant airships R100 and R101 were intended.
It was as the Technical Director (Airships) for the Ministry of Civil Aviation that Major Scott boarded the R101 at Cardington on 4th October 1930 for its ill-fated voyage to India. Along with 47 others he perished the following morning when the airship crashed near Beauvais in France and burst into flames.
This article by Derek Jones of Shortstown first appeared on the Shortstown Heritage website now closed.
R100 engineer Donald Simmonds was another member of the R100 who moved to Shortstown towards the end of 1929 and took part in the airship trials in the following year. He was born in Wigton Cumbria in 1907 and served his apprenticeship with Rolls Royce (as did several of the R100 staff.)
In his book My Airship Flights George Meager the First Officer on board the flight to Canada records that lots were drawn amongst several of the crew for a chance to work on the flight. Unfortunately Donald was unlucky and didn't win but was part of a team sent ahead earlier by sea to provide assistance when the R100 arrived in Montreal.
Donald later joined the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough to work on engine testing and research. He then went on to work at Napier & Sons to test aircraft engines and was transferred to their USA operations.
After WW11 he set up his own motorboat company and built pleasure boats which were used on the River Thames. He later turned his attention to speed racing and successfully developed his own range of aluminium racing boats. Simmonds speedboats grew in popularity in the 1950's with orders coming in from overseas. He produced numerous models and although his company declined in the early 1960’s due to the arrival of more modern fibreglass models his boats are collected today by a thriving group of enthusiasts who are determined to preserve those that remain.
For in-depth details of Simmonds boats go to www.simmonds-motorlaunches.co.uk
Donald lived in Shortstown for over a year in 1929 -1930 and is another example of the highly skilled individuals from the airship era who went on to use their talents in other industries. I have been unable to find a photograph of Donald - please send one in if you have one. Many thanks.
Archibald Herbert Wann was born 26 Nov 1895 and began his career as a naval cadet in 1908 and by 1913 at the age of 18 was a Midshipman. In 1915 he responded to an appeal from the Royal Navy for volunteers to transfer to the airship division. In 1915 he arrived at Wormwood Scrubs Airship Station to take up training and on completion of the course held the rank of Flt Sub-Lt. He then served at Kingsnorth, Polgate and East Fortune airship stations rising to Flt Commander by the end of December 1917.
After the war he continued working on airships and took command of ships R29, R32 and R36 being stationed at Pulham and later Howden. In 1921 he took command of the R38 and was one of only five survivors when the ship crashed claiming 44 lives although he was badly injured. In 1930 he was on board the R100 flight to Canada. He went on to have a successful career in the RAF reaching the rank of Air Commodore. He died in 1948.
With grateful thanks to his grand-daughter Christine Dalton we now have details of Harold Butler Wyn Evans. As can be seen from his biography written by Christine below Harold Wyn Evans had a long association with the airship programme.
"Harold was born on November 1st 1885 in Hornsey, Middlesex. He was the eldest child of John Tom Evans, a Head teacher and, originally, from Brynammon, S.Wales, and Penelope Mary Annie Baker, from Baldock, Herts. After schooling at Crouch End Primary and Owen’s Grammar School Harold became an Engineer Cadet at the Royal Navy Engineering College at Devonport in 1902. He left in 1906 as the Senior Chief Cadet Captain and was awarded the Sword of Honour. He then went to the Royal Naval College at Greenwich where he qualified as a Naval Constructor.
His first posting in 1912 was to H.M. Dockyard, Portsmouth where he was Constructor Lieutenant on HMS Monarch during its sea trials and was on the staff of the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet. In 1913 he joined the Admiralty D.N.C Department where he was now working on submarines and torpedo boats at Barrow and, in 1915, he was seconded to the Government’s Submarine Attack Committee.
He married Doris Lilian Matthews on December 31st 1914 in St Martin in the Fields Church, London. She was the daughter of Alderman David Matthews, J.P. from Swansea. He had also been Mayor of Swansea and M.P. for Swansea East. They had two children: John David (who was killed in WW2) and Eira Mary.
Later in 1915 he moved to be Admiralty Overseer for H.M. Rigid Airships and became Chief Admiralty Overseer in 1917. During this time he worked on HMA R 9 in 1916 and both R 23 and R 26 in 1917. During 1918 he was involved with the R 29 and R 33 plus the R 39 in 1919. He was awarded the M.B.E. in 1919 for his contribution to the war effort.
In 1919 & into 1920, Harold (or Wyn as he was often known) was part of the Inter Allied Aeronautical Commission of Control in Germany. This group looked into the German military following the war. On his return in 1920, he became Head of Airship Design at the Royal Works, Bedford and made Superintendent in 1921.
He wrote a paper entitled ‘ The Standardization of Data for Airship Calculations’ which was read in March 1921 at the meeting of the Institution of Naval Architects. This is on file both in the Ventry Collection and in the USA. In fact, it has just been mentioned as a source for another academic work published in 2017.
Following the loss of R 38, when airship development ceased, Harold became Chief Technical Officer for the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment on the Isle of Grain and in Felixstowe in 1922. He returned to the Royal Works, Bedford in 1924 when airship activities resumed and was Officer in Charge of Design, Research & Construction of H.M. Airships until 1926.
In 1926 he was transferred to Farnborough and became Senior Technical Officer in the Air Worthiness Department at the Royal Aircraft Establishment. In 1929 he moved to the Directorate of Technical Development at the Air Ministry in London for operational aircraft until 1933. Harold returned to Felixstowe in 1933 as the Chief Technical Officer for the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment where he was working with seaplanes.
1936 saw him back at the Air Ministry, and to the D.T.D., where he worked on Kite Balloons. This led him to become Superintendent at the Balloon Development Establishment in Bedford in 1939. In 1940 Balloon development was transferred to the Balloon Command, RAF and Harold was the Principal Technical Officer for Technical Intelligence at Harrogate whilst the transference took place. In 1941 he had his last posting to become Officer in Charge of the Aircraft Recognition, Training and Materials Branch, Ministry of Aircraft Production for all Allied Forces.
When this branch was absorbed into the Ministry of Supply in 1946 and due to being 60, he retired in May 1946."
Thank you Christine!