Aftermath of the R38 crash..
Devestating blow to the Royal Airship Works and Shortstown in Bedford and to the airship base at Howden in East Yorkshire.
Huge blow to the Royal Airship Works at Cardington.
The loss of the R38 had a catastrophic impact not only for the families of those lost but also for the workforce attached to her. The airship was constructed at Cardington about two miles south of Bedford. The site had been built in 1915 and was operated by Short Bros who had won a government contract to build the R31 and R32 airships followed later by the R38 in 1919. In 1920 however, the whole site was placed in government hands and renames The Royal Airship Works.
The R38 construction was put under the control of Superintendent Charles Ivor Rae Campbell, who took over the project already started by Shorts. The workforce included the designers, draughtsmen, engineers, carpenters, riggers, and teams of women cleaning and gluing together the thousands of moleskins that made up the outer skin of the ship. The number of people employed amounted to hundreds and provided incomes for locals following on from the First World War.
It had been hoped that the success of the R38 would lead to further orders thereby securing future employment. Sadly the crash put an end to any further plans and the workforce was reduced to a skeleton staff to maintain the site for the next few years. In 1924 plans were announced to build a new airship on the site and work started on the ill-fated R101 airship.
Shortstown airship village deeply affected by the crash.
Shortstown, built in 1917, is a small village opposite the site of the old airship works. It was built by Shorts to house key workers. In all 150 houses were built to the highest standards and a new community was quickly established. The factory had a canteen for their workers and there was quite a range of sport facilities on site. Inter-departmental sports competitions were encouraged and there was even a beauty contest for lady members of staff!
News of the airship crash impacted this small community in many ways. Amongst those killed were two officials of the RAW, Superintendent Campbell and Frank Warren (Assistant Constructor) who would have been familiar figures around the site. Some testing had been carried out at Cardington before the R38 was flown to Howden and there is evidence that the British crew had spent some time at Cardington at this time to be joined later by the US team.
The following is an extract from a letter sent by a Mr L Gordine in 1993 to Mr Den Burchmore.* As a young boy Mr Gordine lived in the village around 1917-1922 so this is a very interesting letter. His reference to the crash and a survivor called 'Potter' refers to Flight Sergeant Walter Potter who later served with the R101 airship.
“Dear Mr Birchmore,
I was very interested to read your letter in the Daily Mail re mooring masts. I feel I have a special interest in Cardington for the following reasons. I am now 81 years old and first went to school at 5 at Cardington Village School. My family that is my parents and four boys of which I was the youngest lived in East Square, Shortstown and my father was a joiner and carpenter working on the airships towards the end of the 1914-18 war.
Our lives revolved around the airships, and whenever the airship was taken out of the shed we were given the day off to witness the event. I mostly remember the R38 which went down in the Humber, when we all spent the night gathered outside the gates waiting for news as we knew so many of the crew, especially one survivor named Potter. Although I was very young at the time I recall the continuous noise of the engines being tested hour after hour. Sometimes our father would get permission to take us boys to see the airship under construction. We often used to take a short cut across the fields at the back of the shed on my way home from school.
Mr L C Gordine."
The loss of the ship was a great blow to the community and of course signalled the end their employment. Most of the workers were made redundant and it is thought that some of the original key staff who moved to the area when Shorts built the site found work back at other Shorts factories.
*With grateful thanks to Den Burchmore for passing this letter on to me. - Jane.
Howden airship station. East Yorkshire.
After the end of the First World War the airship station at Howden was gradually run down. It had been used as a training facility for airship crews and could also house the bigger rigid airships. A small US contingent was also based there in 1918. However when the US government agreed to purchase the R38 the station was kept open to house and train the US crews. Workers on the site would have been devastated to learn of the crash which resulted in 16 US deaths and effectively shut down the station until it was revived in 1925 when work began on the R100 airship designed by Barnes Wallace.
The City of Hull. Witness to the crash.
The R38 crashed in the River Humber in broad daylight witnessed by many residents of Hull. Local boats rallied to the stricken airships and searched for survivors. In all 44 men were killed with 5 surviving. Funerals of some of the UK crew took place in Hull but all the US crew were laid to rest in their own country. A memorial to all those who lost their lives was erected at the Western Cemetery at Hull in 1924. A