The R34 Airship
The R34 was the first airship to make a return flight across the Atlantic to New York back in July 1919 and this tremendous achievement should not be underestimated.
Built by William Beardmore & Co in Inchinnan near Glasgow between 1917/18 this airship was initially intended for combat use in WWI but with the end of the war was converted for passenger use.
The Captain of the R34 was George Herbert Scott. Following damage sustained whilst moored at Howden this ship was scrapped in January 1921.
Shown above is the officer and crew list printed in The Flight magazine detailing those on board the R34 on the ground breaking flight to America. Thirty men are listed and it is known that there was also a stowaway on board - William Ballantyne, a crew member not originally selected for the flight.
This seems to be the only available list of the crew of the R34 but obviously there were others not lucky enough to have been chosen. For example notes in a press release of the victims of the R101 list rigger George Rampton as having worked on the R34.
Shown left with the kind permission of the US Naval Historical Center this photograph shows some of the officers of the R34. The caption reads "Officers who had crossed the Atlantic aboard the R-34, photographed following her arrival at Mineola, New York, on 7 July 1919. They are identified as (from left to right): Lieutenant Commander Zachary Lansdowne, USN, Observer; Lieutenant Wallace Durant, RAF, Wireless Officer (apparently wearing a U.S. Navy uniform); Lieutenant Guy N. Harris, RAF, Meteorlogical Officer; Major J.F.M. Pritchard, RAF; Brigadier General E.M. Maitland, CGM, DWO, British Air Ministry; Lieutenant H.F. Luck, RN, Second Officer; and Lieutanant J.D. Shotter, RN, Engineer Chief."
Sadly Major J F M Pritchard and Brigadier General Maitland lost their lives in the R38 airship crash in 1921 and Lieutenant Commander Zachary Landsdown was killed in the USS Shenandoah airship crash in Sept 1925.
Known crew of the R34 airship
William Young Angus joined the Airship Service in 1915 and served on many different types of non-rigids. He later served on the R33 and was on the R34 William return flight from the US to England in 1919. He went on to serve on the R80 and was Chief Engineer on the R100 flight to Canada.
George Martin Rampton joined the airship service in 1915 and served on non rigids SS.22, Cox SS54 & others. He also served on HMA 9R, HMA 23r, R31, R32, R34 and R36. In 1929 he joined the R101 crew. Sadly he was killed when that ship crashed in Oct 1930
Corporal R J Burgess was a rigger on the R34 airship. He had joined the airship service in 1916 and worked on the R31 and R32. He later joined the R100 crew and was part of an advance team of men who sailed to Canada to assist in the arrival of the R100
Aircraftman 2nd Class Roy Parker was an experienced rigger but later lost his life in the R38 airship crash in 1921.
Rigger George Ryder Scott joined the service in 1918 and served on airships R24, R32, R34, and R36. In October 1929 he joined the R100 crew.
LAC Frank Browdie was a Rigger on the R34 and was with the R38. Fortunately he was not on board that airship when it crashed claiming 44 lives and went on to join the R101 team. He lived in Shortstown from 1930 - 1939 but it is quite possible that he lived there earlier as many of the R38 were there.
Advisor Victor Goddard was a young navy cadet in 1910 but by 1915 was a fully trained airship pilot. He served on several non-rigids during
the war and later served on airships HMA 23r, HMA 24r and then was an advisor on both the R34 and R80 airships. He later went on to have a distinguished career in the RAF becoming an Air Marshall and received a knighthood in 1947.
Flight Sgt W. R. Gent was an engineer on the R34. He joined the service back in 1915 and by 1919 already had extensive experience of
working on airships and was the holder of an Air Force Medal. In 1925 he was part of the R33 crew when it broke away from its moorings. William Gent lived in Shortstown from at least 1925 until 1930 when he lost his life in the R101 crash.
Navigator Thomas Elmhirst served on airships with the RNAS from 1915-1918. He then served with the Air
Ministry in London, from 1918-1920 moving on to the School of Naval Co-operation and Aerial Navigation at Calshot. He was navigator on the R34 during 1920 and 1921.
Granville Watts was another airship man who had lived in Shortstown. He was born in Worstead, Norfolk and was on the R100 flight to Canada. Unlike most of the R100 crew who had moved from Howden to Bedford in Dec 1929 records show Granville was already in Shortstown in 1927.
In his book 'My Airship Flights' 1915-1930 George Meager the Captain of the R100 marvels at the sheer bravery of Granville who was hoisted outside of the R100 mid-flight over 3000ft in below freezing temperatures to repair an outer engine. Shown right is the photo Captain Meager took of the incident.
We are indebted to another Granville Watts* - a great nephew of Granville who has sent in these photographs and the following information which clearly show just how experienced this man was.
“I had a look at the information I had about Granville. The following information is taken from a report of the inquest into his death and the transcript of the eulogy read at his funeral. He became associated with airships in 1916 and was engaged in the construction and flying with ships known as Zero's SSE3, SST14 and others. He was employed as an engineer on the R32, R34, R80 and R33 and on the 23rd of November 1929 he became a member of the R100 crew and flew both ways across the Atlantic. Granville was a member of the R33's breakaway crew and he was aboard the R34 when it crash landed at Howden.
He was engaged in the construction of the R101 but was not a member of its crew. He was invited but according to his brother Alec could not stand the heat in India. It is also mentioned that he was doubtful of her capabilities. His place on the ship was taken by a man who was saved"
Sadly this brave man was killed in a motor cycle accident on Christmas Eve in 1930. In his career he had been part of some of the most dramatic events in airship history being attached to such historic ships as the R33, R34 and R100.
*Thank you very much to Granville Watts for sending in this information and the photographs of his great uncle.
** This information first appeared on the Shortstown Heritage website now closed.
I was delighted to hear from Kenneth Gray - whose grandfather James Henry Gray was an engineer on the R34 flight to America.
“My grandfather was Cpl James Henry Gray, engineer on the R34 trans-atlantic flight. I have some paper work and details of his service. My Grandfather lived until I was in my mid-20s and we had many conversations about his voyage on the R34. He served in R.N.A.S. Armoured Cars in Gallipoli then transferred to the Airship Division until after the R34 flight. He was recalled in the WW2 to the R.A.F. I have attached some photos. The sailor hat was given to him on arrival in New York, Silver Propelling Pencil was gifted to the crew from US Navy Officers. My grandfather James Henry Gray was born in Aberdeenshire in 1885 and was a chauffeur at the outbreak of WW1. He was called up (?) to the R.N.A.S on 1/1/1915, where he served in Gallipoli as PO Mechanic/Driver on Armoured Cars. (Career timeline below).
1/1/1915-31/3/1918 – R.N.A.S I.M. 4
1916: He was in Airship Division, served at Howden, Scrubbs, Bedford, Inchinnan and East Fortune.
1/4/1918-30/4/1920 – R.A.F CPL.
Between WW1/WW2 - Chauffeur.
5/6/1939 - 9/4/1943: WW2 R.A.F served at Abbotsinch, Cpl. Fitter AE, Leconfield T.Sarg, Cranwell. T.Sarg, Lossiemouth, T.F.Sarg, Elsham Wolds, T.F.Sarg. 9/4/1943: Discharged.
1943: Employed as Civilian Fireman at RAF Leuchars for BOAC. After WW2 worked in a local garage. He attended 50th Anniversary Garden Party for RAF at Holyrood House, Edinburgh. Also 50th Anniversary at Heathrow Airport for R34."
Thanks to Kennet for sharing this information.