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The R101 Victims Funeral and Memorial

The R101 memorial Christmas Eve 2010
The R101 memorial Christmas Eve 2010

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 the funeral and memorial to those who died.

The ceremonies began at Beauvais on 7th October when a contingent from the French army and air force assembled at the Hotel de Ville for a “levee du corps”. The French prime minister and Ministers of Air and War were also present. A movement was already under way in Beauvais to buy the ground on which R101 crashed for a permanent memorial, which was indeed later built.

The bodies were then taken by French gun carriages to a special train which took the dead to Boulogne. The bodies were then carried back to Dover by destroyers H. M. S. Tempest and H. M. S. Tribune. A special train then carried the remains to London accompanied my members of the Royal Air Force. The bodies were then temporarily housed at Westminster City Mortuary in Horseferry Road.

The bodies lay in state in Westminster Hall before being transferred to Euston Station via Whitehall, Strand, Aldwych, Kingsway and Southampton Row for removal to Bedford. The train passed along the branch line from Bletchley to Bedford after leaving the West Coast Main Line. The bodies were unloaded at Saint John’s Station about 2 p. m., going by road in a mile long cortege to Saint Mary’s churchyard in Cardington. They were buried at 4 p. m. on 11th October 1930 in separate coffins but in a mass grave because so many of the remains were unidentified. The service was undertaken by the Vicar of Cardington and the Bishop of Saint Albans. A squadron of RAF aircraft flew overhead and three volleys were fired over the grave by a detachment of the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment. A memorial service had been held at Saint Paul’s cathedral in London earlier that morning.

The monument above the mass grave was erected by public subscription, which realised £1,398/1/3. It was completed in September 1931 at a cost of £1,075/5/6, the remaining £322/15/9 being available for dependents of those who died.

The memorial was designed by Sir Albert Richardson. It is a large stone tomb chest of simple design set on a three tiered base. The north west panel is inscribed: "Here lie the bodies of 48 officers and men who perished in the airship R101 at Beauvais, France, Oct. 5 1930". The side panels are inscribed with the names of the dead. The monument was listed by the former Department of Environment in May 1984 as Grade II, of special interest.

A plaque to the victims of the disaster is in Cardington church. More poignantly the ensign flown from R101 when it crashed is framed and also hangs in the church.

Flag from the R101 May 2010
Flag from the R101 May 2010