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The R101 Casualties

R101 at its mooring tower [Z991/5]
R101 at its mooring tower [Z991/5]

When R101 crashed just south of Beauvais just after 2 a. m. on Sunday 5th October 1930 forty eight passengers and crew died as a result of the intense fire. Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service is lucky in having a number of albums of press cuttings as part of the Mike Allen archive [Z434]. One of these volumes [Z434/4] has the cuttings relating to the tragedy and gives details of some of those killed. Many of bodies were so badly charred as to be unrecognisable, eventually twenty six were identified. The body of Lord Thomson was never identified.

The complete list is as follows, the details of full name, age and address are taken from the burial register for Cardington [P38/1/14]. Those names in italics are of men whose bodies were identified after the crash:

Noel Grebowski Atherstone [Z434/4]
Noel Grebowski Atherstone [Z434/4]

Lieutenant-Commander Noel Grebowski Atherstone. He was R101’s first officer. He was thirty six years old and lived at 4 The Crescent, Shortstown.

George Kimberley Atkins [Z434/4]
George Kimberley Atkins [Z434/4]

George Kimberley Atkins. He was a wireless operator, aged thirty and, originally from Aldershot [Hampshire], lived at 9 Kathie Road, Bedford. He was part of R100’s crew on its transatlantic flight.

Major Percy Bishop, Chief Inspector, Aeronautical Inspection Department. He was forty two and lived at Cleeve Lodge, Esher [Surrey].

Richard Blake. He was an engineer, aged thirty three and, originally from Westminster, lived at 9 North End, Shortstown.

Sir Sefton Brancker [Z434/4]
Sir Sefton Brancker [Z434/4]

Air Vice-Marshal Sir William Sefton Brancker (1877-1930). He served in the Royal Artillery in the Second Boer War and served with the Royal Flying Corps and later the Royal Air Force during the First World War. He was Controller General of Equipment and then Master general of Personnel in 1918. In 1922 he was created Director General of Civil Aviation and was chairman of the Royal Aero Club’s racing committee from 1921 until his death. He was fifty three at the time of his death and lived at Studeley, Milton Woodbridge [Suffolk].

James Buck [Z434/4]
James Buck [Z434/4]

James Buck. He was Lord Thomson’s servant, aged twenty and lived with him at 122 Ashley Gardens, Westminster.

Charles Arthur Burton. He was an engineer, aged thirty and, originally from Hull [Yorkshire], lived at East Villa, Goldington.

Alexander Bushfield. He was a member of the Aeronautical Inspection Department, aged fifty two and lived at 20 Goldington Road, Bedford.

Samuel Church. He was a rigger and survived the initial crash but died in hospital from his injuries, he was twenty five years old. He lived on The Green in Cardington.

R. B. B. Colmore [Z434/4]
R. B. B. Colmore [Z434/4]

Wing Commander Reginald Blayney Bulteel Colmore, Director of Airship Development. He served with the pioneering armoured car squadron at Antwerp in 1914 and commanded an armoured car section at Gallipoli in 1915. He was the first to use airships in conjunction with aeroplanes and surface craft to counter the German U-Boat menace during World War One whilst stationed at Mullion in Cornwall. He was later made Chief Staff Officer, Air Operations with the Grand Fleet. He was forty three and lived at The Nook, Herongate, Rickmansworth [Hertfordshire].

Frederick Elliott. He was a wireless operator. He had thrown a farewell party at the Bridge Hotel in Bedford on the Saturday. He left a wife and a daughter. He was twenty eight and lived at 3 Meadow Croft, Carshalton Road, Sutton [Surrey]. He had, at the last moment, taken the place of C. W. Larkins.

Christopher John Fergusson. He was an engineer, aged thirty six and, originally from Gillingham [Kent], lived at 12 Saint Paul’s Road, Bedford.

Edgar Eric Ford. He was a rigger, aged twenty six, who, originally from Kingsbridge near Totnes [Devon], lived at 26 South Drive, Shortstown.

Percy Archdale Foster. He was a rigger, aged twenty eight, who lived at 17 Saint Mary’s Street, Bedford.

William Rose Gent. He was first engineer on R101, aged fifty three. He served on submarines during World War One and later flew on the airships R33, R34 and R100. Originally from Northampton, he lived at 15 North Drive, Shortstown. He left a widow and an eleven year old son.

Maurice Alfred Giblett [Z434/4]
Maurice Alfred Giblett [Z434/4]

Maurice Alfred Giblett. He was R101’s meteorological officer, aged thirty six and lived at 12 Hotspur Drive, Beaconsfield [Buckinghamshire]. He had been born in Surrey and served as a meteorological officer with the Royal Engineers during World War One and the North Russian Expeditionary Force to try to halt the Bolshevik advance. He was appointed superintendent of the Airship Services Division.

Eric Anderson Graham. He was R101’s cook, aged twenty eight, who, originally from Ranelagh, County Dublin [Ireland], lived at 1 Bushmead Avenue, Bedford and had only joined the crew the previous month. He was said to have been offered £50 by a friend to stand down so that the friend could go in his place but refused.

Alfred Charles Hastings. He was an engineer, aged thirty, who lived at 10 Dickens Road, East Ham, London.

William Frank Hodnett. He was the assistant steward, aged twenty nine, who lived at 3 South Abbey, Youghal, CountyCork [Ireland]. He had been assistant steward on R100’s transatlantic flight and was engaged to be married to a girl from Bedford.

George William Hunt. He was R101’s chief coxswain. He was forty one left a wife and three children. Originally from Twyford [Berkshire], he was living at 42 South Drive, Shortstown.

Herbert Carmichael Irwin [Z434/4]
Herbert Carmichael Irwin [Z434/4]

Flight Lieutenant Herbert Carmichael Irwin. He was the captain of R101 and was hailed as a hero in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy for staying at his post and trying to save his ship. He had joined the Royal Naval Air Service’s airship section in 1915 and commanded a number of airships including R33 and R36. He was thirty six and lived at Long Acre, Putnoe Lane, Bedford. He had been a member of the British Olympic athletics team in Antwerp in 1920.

Ernest Livingstone Johnston [Z434/4]
Ernest Livingstone Johnston [Z434/4]

Squadron Leader Ernest Livingstone Johnston. He was R101’s navigator and had also been navigator of R100 during her successful transatlantic flight. He had also been navigator on the first Imperial Airways flight to India and back in 1927. He was aged thirty nine and, a native of Sunderland, lived at Harrowden House.

Spencer Thomas Keeley. He was R101’s chief wireless operator, aged thirty five, who, originally from Stufton [Norfolk], lived at 9 Conquest Road, Bedford. He took part in R100’s transatlantic flight.

Thomas Arthur Auckland Key. He was a charge-hand engineer, aged thirty four, originally from Hastings [Sussex], he lived at 11 Central Avenue, Shortstown.

William Henry King. He was an engineer, aged thirty two and lived at 8 Dernier Road, Tonbridge [Kent]. A newspaper reported that on Saturday his parents had received a postcard of R101 from him with the message: “Shall see you soon”.

Maurice Frank Littlekit. He was an engineer, aged twenty nine, from East Willow, Romsey [Hampshire].

Hugh Christopher Mason. He was assistant coxswain, aged thirty three and left a wife and five children. Originally from Harringay [London] he was living at 19 North Drive, Shortstown.

Thomas William Megginson. He was a galley boy, the youngest of those who died, aged just eighteen. He was from Cawood, near Selby in Yorkshire and had been pantry boy on R100’s successful Atlantic crossing, having been chosen from five hundred applicants. He was recorded as saying: “I have always wanted to fly on an airship” and joined R101 in July 1930.

Wilfrid Moule. He was an engineer, aged thirty and, originally from Wolverhampton [Staffordshire], lived at 13 Ashburnham Road, Bedford.

Arthur William James Norcott. He was a rigger, aged twenty nine and, originally from Royston[ Hertfordshire], lived at 3 Havelock Street, Bedford.

Squadron Leader William Hickley O’Neill. He was representative of the Secretary of State for India, aged forty. He lived at Hedges, Winchelsea [Hampshire].

Leonard Frederick Oughton. He was an assistant coxswain, aged twenty nine and, originally from Saint Pancras [London], lived at 11 Eastcote, Shortstown.

Squadron Leader William Palstra. He was a member of the Royal Australian Air Force, aged thirty eight and lived at Ashley Meade, Fawley [Hampshire].

Walter Augustus Potter. He was assistant chief coxswain and had been working with airships since 1915, being one of the survivors of the crash of the R.38 in 1921 in which forty four died and five escaped with their lives. He was thirty two and, originally from Braintree [Essex], then Saxmundham [Suffolk], lived at 8 The Drive, Shortstown. He left a wife and ten year old daughter.

Walter George Radcliffe [Z434/4]
Walter George Radcliffe [Z434/4]

Walter George Radcliffe. He was a rigger and survived the initial crash but died in hospital at Beauvais from his injuries, aged thirty one. He was seen trying to pull a girder off his foot when he was engulfed in flames. He lost an eye in the immediate disaster and was facing an operation to amputate one or more limbs. He lived at 6 Foster Street, Bedford.

Martin George Rampton. He was a rigger, aged thirty one and, originally from Binstead [Hampshire], lived at 10 the Crescent, Shortstown.

Arthur James Richardson. He was a rigger, aged twenty nine, who lived at Church Road, Wilshamstead.

Vincent Crane Richmond [Z434/4]
Vincent Crane Richmond [Z434/4]

Lieutenant Colonel Vincent Crane Richmond (1893-1930), he was known as “Dope” due to his obsession with perfecting the celluloid varnish which covered the envelope of an airship. He was born in Dalston, London and designed airships during the First World War and joined the Airship Research Department of the Air Ministry in 1921. In 1924 he joined the Royal Airship Works at Cardington as Officer in Charge of Design and Research. He was thus largely responsible for the design of R101. He was thirty seven at the time of his death and lived at Odell Rectory.

Squadron Leader Frederick Michael Rope. He was V. C. Richmond’s assistant and was forty two years old. A native of Shrewsbury [Shropshire], he lived at Southmills, Blunham.

Ernest George Rudd. He was a rigger and had been married just two months before the tragedy. He was twenty five and, originally from Norwich [Norfolk], lived at 3 Victoria Road, Bedford.

Albert Henry Savidge [Z434/4]
Albert Henry Savidge [Z434/4]

Albert Henry Savidge. He was R101’s chief steward, aged thirty two, who, originally from Reading [Berkshire], lived at 43 South Drive, Shortstown.

George Herbert Scott [Z434/4]
George Herbert Scott [Z434/4]

Major George Herbert Scott, Assistant Director of Airship Development (Flying). He was born in Catford, London. He was captain of airship R9 in 1917, the first rigid British airship. He made the first east to west transatlantic flight in July 1919 in airship R34 from RAF East Fortune in Scotland to Mineola on Long Island, New York. He then returned thus making the first double crossing of the Atlantic. He invented the Air Ministry’s system of airship mooring. He lived at Manor Farmhouse, Cotton End. He was forty two at the time of his death.

Sydney Ernest Scott. He was a charge-hand engineer, aged forty and, originally from Leicester, lived at 2 North Drive, Shortstown. He left a widow and a child.

George William Short. He was a charge-hand engineer, aged thirty four, who, originally from Maidenhead [Berkshire], lived at 3 North End, Shortstown.

Maurice Henry Steff [Z434/4]
Maurice Henry Steff [Z434/4]

Flying Officer Maurice Henry Steff. He was R101’s second officer, aged thirty four and a native of Luton, who lived at 65 Ashburnham Road, Bedford. He had taken part in the Battle of Jutland and was second officer on R100’s successful transatlantic flight.

Cecil Edgar Taylor. He was a rigger, aged thirty two and, originally from Wilshamstead, lived at 12 Greycote, Shortstown.

Lord Thomson [Z434/4]
Lord Thomson [Z434/4]

Lord Christopher Birdwood Thomson, 1st Baron Thomson of Cardington (1875-1930). He was a Labour peer and Secretary of State for Air in 1924 and from 1929 until his death. He had served as Chief Military Interpreter between the commander-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Force, Sir John French and head of the French army, Marshal Joffre in 1914 and 1915 and then as military attaché to Romania. He saw active service in the Palestine campaign in 1917 and 1918. He was elevated to the peerage by the first Labour Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald in 1924e saw active service. He was fifty five when he died and lived at 122 Ashley Gardens, Westminster.

Albert Henry Watkins. He was an engineer, aged 28 and lived at Bassaleg in Monmouthshire

Of these forty eight men, thirty three lived in Bedfordshire.

The survivors were:

A. V. Bell in hospital at Beauvais [Z434/4]
A. V. Bell in hospital at Beauvais [Z434/4]

A. V. Bell, a twenty one year old engineer who was slightly injured. He lived in Cardington.

J. H. Binks [Z434/4]
J. H. Binks [Z434/4]

J. H. Binks, a thirty seven year old engineer who was slightly injured. He came from Sheffield [Yorkshire].

A J Cook in hospital at Beauvais [Z434/4]
A. J. Cook in hospital at Beauvais [Z434/4]

A. J. Cook, a twenty seven year old engineer who lived in Cardington.

A. Disley in hospital at Beauvais [Z434/4]
A. Disley in hospital at Beauvais [Z434/4]

A. Disley, a twenty eight year old wireless operator who lived in Cardington.

H. J. Leech [Z434/4]
H. J. Leech [Z434/4]

H. J. Leech, a foreman engineer who was slightly injured. He lived in Cardington. His wife had been widowed when her first husband died in an airship crash. He was in the navigation cabin and ordered the engines to be driven at full speed in order to try to gain altitude just before the crash. He escaped by smashing his way through the cabin wall. He was later reported as saying that he never wished to fly again.

V. Savory, a thirty three year old engineer who lived in Cardington.

Two men from Wallsend [Northumberland], Charles Nesbitt, a cook, and H. S. Edgar, a rigger, were due to be part of R101’s crew. However, they were offered £1 per week less than they wanted and so refused to join. Fred Browdie, of Chelmsford [Essex] and Frank Noble were due to be part of R101’s crew but were detailed to other duties just before take-off.