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Centenary of airship’s record-breaking flight to be marked in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 11:55 16 July 2018 | UPDATED: 12:03 16 July 2018

The R34 is man-handled into one of Pulham's giant airship sheds on July 13, 1919. Photo: Archant Library

The R34 is man-handled into one of Pulham's giant airship sheds on July 13, 1919. Photo: Archant Library

Archant

Norfolk is set to be the centre of centenary celebrations of one of the great feats of aviation, the first double airborne crossing of the Atlantic.

The R34 record flightis celebrated in a sign at the village of Pulham St Mary. Photo: Nick ButcherThe R34 record flightis celebrated in a sign at the village of Pulham St Mary. Photo: Nick Butcher

Next year will mark 100 years since the historic two-way crossing of the Atlantic by the R34 airship and preparations are already underway to mark the event, which has strong links to Pulham St Mary.

The South Norfolk village achieved international fame when the massive 634ft aircraft landed at Pulham Air Station following its epic journey of some 3,130 miles.

The British airship had taken off from East Fortune in Scotland in July 1919, with a crew of 30, plus one stowaway, who was discovered mid-Atlantic, and crossed to Mineola, Long Island, before coming back to land at Pulham on July 13, 1919.

Diss Museum manager Basil Abbott who leading plans to mark the 100th anniversary of the R34 record-breaking flight. Photo: Sonya DuncanDiss Museum manager Basil Abbott who leading plans to mark the 100th anniversary of the R34 record-breaking flight. Photo: Sonya Duncan

Landmark commemorations are being planned by Diss Museum but there will be events all over the world to celebrate the intrepid flight.

Meetings have taken place with the Scottish National Museum of Flight in East Lothian, the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen, Germany, Tonder in Denmark and Spitsbergen.

“I have been to museums all around the world that include material about airships and they all are keen to be involved,” said Diss Museum manager Basil Abbott.

The Airship R34, which made the first two-way crossing of Atlantic in July 1919. It landed at Pulham Air Station on its return. Photo: Archant LibraryThe Airship R34, which made the first two-way crossing of Atlantic in July 1919. It landed at Pulham Air Station on its return. Photo: Archant Library

The German connection is significant, as airships were German technology, the R34 being a blatant copy of a crashed Zeppelin.

Mr Abbott said: “There is a lot of interest in the history of airships. There was a lot of hostility against them at the start before they went on to establish themselves as the last word in sophisticated travel for a while in the inter-war years. But that suddenly ended with a horrible bang with the Hindenburg disaster. Then it was like they had never been. There are strong parallels with Concorde in that sense.”

Amongst events planned in Norfolk for the centenary weekend next July is a performance of a work called All Aboard the R34 by local composer Peter Creswell, who lives in Redgrave, near Diss, while the award-winning Scottish indie-rock band Admiral Fallow will also provide specially written music.

Engineering officer John Shotter, left, with Brig Gen Edward Maitland aboard R34. Photo: Archant LibraryEngineering officer John Shotter, left, with Brig Gen Edward Maitland aboard R34. Photo: Archant Library

Norfolk brewery Buffy’s has produced special R34 ale. There will also be re-creations of the banquets held in honour of the crew, plus schools projects and exhibitions on an airship theme by local art and textile groups.

• For more information about the R34 centenary visit: airships.me.uk



‘Pulham Pigs’

‘Pulham Pigs’ was the nickname given to the airships stationed at Pulham St Mary - so named because of their buff-colour similar to the colour of a pig’s skin.

Pulham was chosen as the site for an Airship Station just before the First World War. The land was bought in great secrecy, so that enemies couldn’t find out what was planned.

From 1915 until the 1930s, airships from Pulham travelled the world. The R34 is probably the most famous thanks to its record-breaking two-way trip that took seven days 15 hours and 15 minutes (not including the three day stopover in the US). When the R34 arrived in the US, Major E.M. Pritchard parachuted to the ground to supervise the landing process, becoming the first man to parachute onto American soil. The return journey took just over 75 hours landing back in Pulham on July 13, 1919.

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