The R101 Survivors
As is well known six people survived the crash. Joe Binks, Arthur Bell and Alfred Cook remained in Shortstown and worked on the camp (RAF Cardington) for many years after. Thanks to the nephew of Harry Leech we now know more about his life after the R101 but little is known of Victor Savory or Arthur Disley - if anyone can shed any light on the lives of these individuals please get in touch. All of these men were living in Shortstown in 1930.
*This page first appeared on the Shortstown Heritage website now closed.
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.
Shown left: Harry Leech (first right on the front of the car) with Malcolm Campbell at Daytona Beach in 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!
Thanks to John Millman a nephew of Victor Savory we now know a little more about
Victor. His real name was Alfred Victor Alexander Savory and John remembers him as a "lovely man - 6ft 4ins tall and of heavy build." He began his career as an Engineer in the Royal Air Force and was badly burned in the R101 crash. In WW2 Victor worked as an AID (Air Inspectorate Division) Inspector at the A V Roe Company (AVRO) in Lincoln.
In Johns words again - "Occasionally he would visit us for a couple of days and mother (Gertrude Savory n. Millman) would always put herself out for him, he was her favourite brother"
*Thanks to John Millman for sharing this information and photograph of Victor with us.
Engineer John Henry Binks (more commonly known as Joe) was born on 29.12.1891. John Henry served in the Navy for 12 years and joined the crew in 1929 and by 1930 was a resident of Shortstown.
In 1933 it was reported in the local press that he had fainted at the first R101 memorial service held at Allone in France.
He continued to work on the camp (RAF Cardington based on the former Royal Airship Works site) for many years after and was part of the small team who worked on Lord Ventry's airship The Bournemouth in the early 1950's. Binks Court in Shortstown is named after him in a tribute to his long association with the area.
Survivor Engineer Arthur Victor Bell first arrived in Shortstown in 1927 and his son Bill was born there in 1929. He had joined the Airship Service back in 1919 and was also on the R33 when it broke from its moorings. Arthur remained In Shortstown for many years and played a very active role in village life.
Bells Close in Shortstown was named after Arthur Bell.
Wireless Operator Arthur Disley was one of a few men who served on both the R100 and R101 airships and indeed was part of the crew on the R100 flight to Canada. According to the R100 pre-flight press release he joined the RNAS on 04.03.1920. He was stationed in Shortstown from 1930-1931. When the R101 fell to the ground Arthur Disley was able to escape however his hands were badly burned but he showed great fortitude and insisted on relaying the news back home before allowing himself to be medically treated. For this act of selflessness he was awarded an Order of The British Empire medal. His citation reads' Mr Disley was very badly burned, especially in the right hand, but before being treated he insisted on telephoning from Beauvais to the Air Ministry to give details of the accident. This act has aroused the admiration of all the natives of Beauvais, who saw the conditions under which he carried this out, and appreciated his sense of duty.'
We are so privileged to hear from Heather Cook the daughter of Alfred Cook who has kindly furnished us with details about her father.
“I understand that my nephew Simon Cook had been in touch with you regarding my father Alfred John Gale Cook who was one of the 6 survivors from the R101 disaster in France. I will try and give you some history but he didn't talk very much of the past, and with me not being born until 1947 I didn't know about his very early years.
Alfred was born at the General Lying in Hospital in Lambeth, London 29-3-1907, his father being a blacksmith at the Bedlam Hospital in Lambeth. (Now the Imperial War Museum). How and when he arrived at Shortstown I do not know.* He was an Engineer in one of the Engine pods on the night of the crash, fortunately for him he had swopped shifts that night with another crew member who had been ill, and that person didn't survive.
He did recall that when the airship was down he had to push burning girders out of his way to get out of the pod, which severely burnt his hands.
He also said that he fled across a field and on turning round spotted sparks and flames following him. (He had in fact been on fire). He was so confused he ran into the side of a cow before being found by a local farmer. (I have seen photographs of him covered head to foot in bandages where he had been burnt). He was married at the time but he never mentioned to whom as she died of cancer shortly afterwards.
Alfred Cook in hospital at Beauvais, France immediately after the R101 crashed. (Image taken from The Mirror Oct 6th 1930)
He married my mother Joan Denman on Christmas Eve 1938. My mother was a fabric worker at the aerodrome but was actually from Sidmouth in Devon and her work was obviously for the war effort at the time. I know that during WW2 he was ranked a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm (Must have been in the reserves as I can remember seeing his uniform with 2 wavy stripes around the sleeves.) After the war he continued working for the Air Ministry in aircraft maintenance, where I was born near RAF Wroughton, Wiltshire. We moved up to Wellington in Shropshire again for a RAF station, I think The Wrekin was mentioned. In 1951 we moved to Gloucestershire when he was posted to RAF Aston Downs and when that closed RAF Kemble where the Red Arrows were first formed. As he was by now a Senior person at the base I often got taken to the air stations during the school holidays and was given flights in some wonderful old aircraft – DC3’s & Seaprince I recall.
In January 1958 he was awarded the MBE by Queen Elizabeth for his services to the Air Ministry, I was fortunately chosen to go with my parents to visit Buckingham Palace for the ceremony, being the youngest of the family. He retired as a Senior Technical Superintendent – Royal Air force in the late 60’s and bought a guest house in Sidmouth before retiring to Alicante in Spain. He returned to the UK in the 80’s again to Gloucestershire and died aged 91 on the 7th November 1998."
Our grateful thanks go to Heather Cook for sharing this information about her father.
*It is recorded that Alfred was working on the R101 as early as December 1928. The electoral registers tell us that he was living in Shortstown in 1930, 1931 and 1932.