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The R101 Crash Victims

The memorial to the R101 crash victims in St Mary's Parish Cemetery, Cardington

In all there were 54 men on board the final flight of the R101 - thirty seven crew, five Officers of the R101, six Officials of the Royal Airship Works, and six passengers. There were six survivors (for details of these individuals please go to the R101 survivor page). The 48 men who were killed are all buried in Cardington cemetery shown above less than a mile away from the two sheds and Shortstown.

Those who lost their lives are listed below.

** This page first appeared on the Shortstown Heritage website now closed.

The R101 crew

George Kimberley Atkins

Operator George Kimberley Atkins was born in London on 17.02.1900. He joined the RNAS in 1917 and was also part of the R100 crew on the Atlantic crossing to Canada.

Engineer Richard Blake joined the crew in 1929 and by 1930 was living in Shortstown. He was born on 01.11.1896. His widow Lucy remained in the village for many years after.

(Photo copyright Illustrated London News/Mary Evans)

Charles Arthur Burton

Engineer Charles Arthur Burton was born on 28.10.1900 and came from Hull.

(Photo copyright Illustrated London News/Mary Evans)

Rigger Samuel Church

Samuel Church was born on 10.02.1904 in Cardington, Bedford. Samuel survived the crash and was taken to the local hospital in France. He had sent a telegram to his father informing his family not to worry as he was safe. Sadly he later died in hospital.

(Photo copyright Illustrated London News/Mary Evans)

Frank Elliot

Wireless Transmitter Frank Elliott was born on 28.10.1901 in Sutton. He worked for Marconis for 10 years on various ships as a wireless op. He moved to Bedford in 1929 and was part of the R100 trials although he not on boardc the flight to Canada. He joined the R101 crew in June 1930. (Information and photo provided by The Local Studies & Archive Centre, Sutton)

Christopher Ferguson was born on 26.01.1894 and came from Kent. If anyone has any information they can add about this man please make contact.

(Photo copyright Illustrated London News/Mary Evans)

Rigger Hector Ford was born on 16.11.1903 and came from Devon. The pre-flight press release states that he served with the RAF from 1920 - 1929 and 'was attached to Cardington' working on the R33 and R37 airships. It is possible that he lived in Shortstown before 1925 but his name first appears on the registers as a resident in 1930. (Photo copyright illustrated London News/Mary Evans)

Percy Archdale Foster

Rigger Percy Foster was a local boy born in Bedford on 19.05.1902

If anyone has any information about him please make contact. (Photo copyright illustrated London News/Mary Evans)

William Rose Gent

First Engineer William Rose Gent was the oldest crew member at 53 years and had lived in Shortstown since 1925. He joined the service in 1915. In 1919 he was part of the R34 crew on its record breaking flight to America. The list of airships this man had served on is very extensive and his experience would have been a great asset to the R101 team. An airship man through and through.

Eric Anderson Graham

Very few facts are available about cook Eric Graham. The press release states that he was born in County Dublin and had worked on several ships before moving to Bedford. He was a latecomer to the R101 team and had only signed up in September 1930.

Engineer Alfred Hastings was born on 16 Nov 1900 and joined the service in 1918. He had served on the R33, R38 and R80. Although we have no proof it is possible that Alfred was in Shortstown in 1921 as he was attached to the R38 certainly by 1930 he was living in the village.

(Photo copyright Illustrated London News/Mary Evans)

William Frank Hodnett

Born in County Cork on 11.06.1901 William Hodnetts real name was John Curran. He was lucky enough to have served on the R100 flight to Montreal.

(Image shown from My Airship Flights by Captain Meager with kind permission from his son Mr Romilly Meager).

George William Hunt

Chief Coxswain George William Hunt had been in the village from at least 1925. He was a much respected airship veteran. Born in 1888 he joined the RNAS in 1913 and was made a Flight Sergeant. He served on many non rigids during the war. It was reported that on escaping from the burning R101 he returned to the wreckage in an attempt to rescue his friend Walter Potter who also perished. (Photo copyright Illustrated London News/Mary Evans)

Spencer Thomas Keeley

Chief Wireless Transmitter Operator Spencer Thomas Keeley had joined the service in 1924 and had served on the R33. He was also fortunate enough to have been on the R100 flight to Canada six weeks earlier. (Photo from the Bedfordshire Times Oct 1930)

Charge-Hand Engineer Thomas Arthur Auckland Key was born on 09.06.1896. He joined the RNAS in 1915 and served in WW1. He had extensive experience of airships and along with quite a few of the other R101 crew had been aboard the R33 when it broke away from its moorings. He had lived in Shortstown since 1927.

(Photo copyright Illustrated London News/Mary Evans)

William Henry King

Engineer William Henry King was born in Tonbridge on 02.08.1895. He joined the RNAS in WW1 and took part in airship patrols over the North Sea. He served on the R29, R32 and R36 airships and was also on the breakaway R33. In a very poignant ending to his story the train carrying his body along with the rest of the fallen crew passed through his home town on the way to London. (Many thanks to the Tonbridge Historical Society for supplying this information)

Maurice Frank Littlekit

Engineer Maurice Frank Littlekit was born 30.10.1900 in Romsey, Hampshire and was another resident of Shortstown in 1930. If anyone has any more information about this man please make contact. (Photo copyright Illustrated London News/Mary Evans).

Christopher Hugh Mason

Assistant Coxswain Christopher Hugh Mason joined the RNAS in 1916. He had served on several ships before taking up airship duties and had served at many UK stations and also Malta. He lived in Shortstown between 1925 and 1930. (Photo copyright Illustrated London News/Mary Evans.)

Thomas William Megginson

Galley Boy Thomas William Megginson was the youngest of all the crew and although only 18 years old had been lucky enough to be on the R100 trip to Canada. What an adventure that must have been for him and such a shame that he should lose his life so young.

Engineer Wilfred Moule was born in Wolverhampton on 14.02.1900. Again if anyone can tell us more about him please make contact. (Photo copyright Illustrated London News/Mary Evans).

Arthur William Norcott was born in Royston on 12.08.1901 and was the son of a head stableman. It is believed that his family moved to Bedford around 1910. (Information supplied by the Royston & District Family History Society. *Jan 2016 - Norcott Mead a new street on the old RAF Cardington site is named after Arthur Norcott. Photo copyright Illustrated London News/Mary Evans).

Leonard Oughton

Assistant Coxswain Leonard Oughton resided in Shortstown from 1925 onwards. He was one of three assistant coxswains on the R101 flight. Born in London on April 1 1901 he joined the RNAS after the First World War at the age of 18 and had served on earlier airships notably the R33.

Walter Potter

Flight Sergeant Walter Potter joined the RNAS in 1915 and served on numerous airships. He was one of only 5 survivors of the R38 airship crash in 1921 which claimed 44 lives. Despite this harrowing experience Walter continued in service and by 1925 was living in Shortstown attached to the R101. Potter Meadows in Shortstown is named after Walter.

Walter George Radcliffe.

Like fellow rigger Samuel Church rigger Walter George Radcliffe initially survived the crash and later died in hospital. He was born in Bedford on 13.01.1899 (Photo taken from The Daily Mail Oct 1930).

Rigger George Martin Rampton had lived in Shortstown since 1929 and was a highly experienced member of the crew having joined the Royal Flying Corp in 1915 and served in the First World War. After the war was over he moved on to airship duties and served on many ships including R31, R32 and the famed R34. (Photo copyright Illustrated London News/Mary Evans).

Arthur Richardson was a local man born in Wilstead nr Bedford. He was born on 04.12.1900 and came from a family of bakers. (Photo copyright Illustrated London News/Mary Evans).

Ernest George Rudd

Ernest George Rudd was born in Norwich on 07.10.1904. If anyone has any information about him please make contact. (Photo Bedfordshire Times)

Albert Savidge

Chief Steward Albert Savidge had worked as a steward on The White Star Line both before and after WWI. During the war he served on submarines. He joined the R100 ship as chief steward in 1929 and moved to Shortstown shortly afterwards. He served on the triumphant R100 flight to Montreal and was one of only a handful of men who actually served on both airships.

Chargehand Engineer Sidney Ernest Scott was born on the 7th May 1890 and lived with his family in Shortstown from 1925 onwards. He had joined the service in 1921 and was one of the crew on board the R33 airship when it broke free of its moorings and drifted out to sea. (Photo copyright Illustrated London News/Mary Evans)

George William Short was born on 01.08.1896 and joined the RNAS in 1918 and served on many airships including the R33. He lived in Shortstown from 1928.

(Photo copyright Illustrated London News/Mary Evans)..

Rigger Cecil Edgar Taylor came from Wilstead nr Bedford and later settled in Shortstown where he lived with his family from 1922 - 1930.

(Photo copyright Illustrated London News/Marie Evans).

Engineer Albert Henry Watkins was born in 18.11.1901.There are no names listed against him on an official list of dependants issued by the Air Ministry so it is assumed he was unmarried. Again if anyone has information about Albert Watkins please make contact.

Officials of the Royal Airship Works

Alexander Bushfield

Alexander Bushfield was born in 1878 and joined the Royal Navy in 1900. By 1913 he was attached to the newly formed RNAS and was to spend the next few years taking part in airship trials at Barrow. At the end of the First World War he transferred to the newly formed RAF in the Technical Branch. By 1920 he was Inspector of Airships at RAF Howden where he remained until 1922. On retiring from the RAF he joined the Air Ministry in the Aeronautical Inspection Department and found himself working on the R100 and R101 trials. Bushfield Court in the new development in Shortstown is named after this man. *Photo found by David Parkin at the closure of RAF Milliom Museum. Courtesy of the Airship Heritage Trust. Thank you so much to both David Parkin and the AHT. I had been unable to find a photograph of Alexander Bushfield despite searching for over five years! – Jane

George Herbert Scott

For more details about George Herbert Scott go to the Notable People section.

Wing Commander Reginald Blayney Bulteel Colmore was the Director of Airship Development. He was born at Portsmouth in 1887 and began his career in the Royal Navy before leaving in 1911. With the onset of WW1 he was back in service in the Armoured Car Division and served at Antwerp and Gallipoli. In 1916 he transferred to the RNAS where he devised coastal defence systems against enemy submarines. His skills were quickly noticed and he was promoted to Chief Staff Officer, Aircraft Operations. After WW1 he was promoted to Squadron Leader in the RAF and was attached to the Air Ministry which inevitably led him to the R100 and R101 programmes. He was also on the successful R100 flight to Canada.

Lieutenant - Colonel Vincent Crane Richmond was Assistant Director/Technical. He was born in Dalston in 1893. His began his career as an engineer for structural stress in dockyard construction. In 1915 he joined the RNAS and worked in airship construction. In the following years he heavily involved in airship research and development and was a lecturer at the Imperial College of Science. (one of his students was a young Harold Roxbee Cox who went on to work on the design of the R101). He joined the R101 team in 1924.

Sqdrn Leader Michael Rope

Squadron Leader Michael Rope began his career in the rail industry undertaking several roles. He then joined the RNAS in WW1 and served at Kingsnorth airship station then later became a Technical Officer and eventually joined the R101 Technical Design team at Cardington. He was according to many reports at the time a very modest and extremely gifted individual. He played a major role in the R101 project and introduced many technical design innovations. He lived in Shortstown from 1926 - 1929.

Officers of the R101

Lt Commander Noel Atherstone.

4635597670 (2).jpg

First Officer of the R101 Noel Grebowsky Atherstone was born in St Petersburg, Russia in 1894. He joined the Royal Navy in 1913 and served on ships during WW1 until 1917 when he moved to airships becoming a pilot in the same year. In 1918 he was awarded an Air Force Medal and became First Officer on the Airship R29.

In 1920 he retired to Australia but was recalled to the R101 programme in 1927. Noel Atherstone lived in Shortstown from 1928 – 1930.

Second Officer Maurice Steff was born in Luton in 1896 and joined the Royal

Navy in 1914 later moving to the RNAS where he began a career in kite balloon testing. From 1920 - 1924 he worked as an Instructor at The School of Balloon Training before moving to the RAW in 1925. He served as Second Officer on both the R100 & R101.

Maurice Henry Steff

Flt Lt Herbert Carmichael Irwin

Captain of the R101 Flt Lieutenant Irwin was born in County Cork, Ireland in 1894. He joined the RNAS in 1915 and served on numerous airships as captain and then commanded airships R33 and R36. He joined the RAW programme in 1925 but later transferred to command the RAF School of Balloon Training. He returned to the RAW in 1929.

Born in Surrey in 1894 Chief Meteorological Officer Maurice Giblett first served as a Meteorological Officer in the Royal Engineers in World War 1 and later moved to the Air Ministry. He took part in the trials of the R36, R38 and R80 and joined the RAW team in 1925. He was a member of the delegation sent to Australia, New Zealand and India to pave the way for the proposed routes of the new airship service. He also served on the R100. econd Officer Maurice Steff was born in Luton in 1896 and joined the Royal Navy in 1914 later moving to the RNAS where he began a career in kite balloon testing. From 1920 - 1924 he worked as an Instructor at The School of Balloon Training before moving to the RAW in 1925. He served as Second Officer on both the R100 & R101.

Ernest L Johnston

Ernest Johnston was born in 1891 in Sunderland. He went to Marine School and was a qualified Master Mariner. He served in the Royal Navy Reserves before transferring to the RNAS (airship section) and worked on the non rigids patrolling the coastline to guard against German submarines. After the war he joined the Air Ministry (navigation section). He became an Examiner for Navigators and formed The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators. He also served on both the R100 and R101 airships.

Passengers on board

Brigadier General The Right Honourable Lord Thomson of Cardington

Christopher Thomson, was born in India on 13th April 1875. He was educated at Cheltenham College and the Royal Military Academy and joined the Royal Engineers in 1894. From 1896-1899 he served in Mauritius and then from 1899-1902 in the Boer War at which time he won two medals and was mentioned in dispatches. He then went on to serve in the War Office and as Military Attaché to the Serbian Army.

At the start of WW1 he was sent to Belgium as a liaison officer with the Belgian Army. In 1915 he became the military attaché in Bucharest and after the German invasion of Rumania he was sent to Palestine where he took part in the advance on Jerusalem. He commanded a brigade at the capture of Jericho and in 1918 was awarded the DSO.

Promoted to Brigadier General he was a member of the British delegation at the Paris Peace Conference. In 1919 he resigned from the army in 1919 and had several failed attempts to become a Labour MP. When a Labour government was formed in 1924 PM Ramsay MacDonald gave him a peerage and appointed him Secretary of State for Air. It was in this capacity that he was responsible for the government’s decision to revive the airship program. At the fall of Ramsay’s government Lord Thomson became leader of the Labour Party in the House of Lords but in 1929 with the re-election of Ramsay Macdonald he was once again the Secretary of State for Air. It was in this capacity that he was on board the R101.

James Buck valet to Lord Thomson.

Little is known about this man so if anyone has any information please make contact.

Major Percy Bishop O.B.E. - Chief Inspector of Aircraft

Percy Bishop was born in Berkshire and gained his aeronautical skills in the automobile engineering industry. Such was his technical knowledge that at the outbreak of WW1 he was placed in charge of the Inspection Department of The Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough. He invented many scientific instruments for gauging aeroplane parts. He was widely respected throughout the aviation world. He was also a keen sportsman having played for the Wasps Rugby Club (later Vice Chairman) was Chairman of the Air Ministry Football Club and had close connections to the Air Ministry Athletic Association.

In his obituary his friend Dr A P Thurston remembers him thus "His chief characteristics were an intense and unfailing kindness and an understanding of men, coupled with loyalty and highly efficient practical knowledge of automobile and aeronautical engineering".

Sir (William) Sefton Brancker KCB, AFC was the Director of Civil Aviation. He was born in 1877 and commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 1896. He served in the South African War.

Vice Marshall Sir William Sefton Brancker

Sqdrn Leader W. H. L. O'Neill - Deputy Director of Civil Aviation

Shown left.: Sqdrn Ldr O'Neill. Born in India on 7.02.1890 William Hickley Lovell O' Neill came from a family with long standing military connections and was educated at Sandhurst. In 1910 he went to India and served with the 51st Sikhs Frontier Force. During WW1 he was wounded several times and earned The Military Cross for Gallantry. In 1917 he left his regiment to join the Royal Flying Corps only to be wounded again when his plane crashed in Egypt whilst training. He then returned to India and re-joined his former regiment.

After the war he joined the Royal Air Force and served at the aerodrome in Karachi. He was on the flight to India to take up a civil aviation post representing the Secretary of State for India.

His obituary concludes “A man of fine physique, a gallant, enthusiastic officer, a cheery companion, and loyal generous friend. He is mourned and missed by all who knew him."


*With grateful thanks to Isabelle Sambrook for her sterling work on tracing this man and his family.

Squadron Leader William Palstra was born in South Africa in 1892 but much of his life was spent in Australia after his father was sent there in his role as a Commissioner in the Salvation Army. He originally served in the infantry in WW1 but joined the Australian Flying Corps in 1917 and shot down six enemy aircraft. He was also the holder of a Military Cross.

*With grateful thanks to Nicole Kearney of the Melbourne Museum in Australia for providing this information.

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