Things ain’t what they used to be, said the song and of course they never were. Each generation lives in its own time and views the world about it from its own situation. New ways and new ideas slip into our lives and old ones disappear unnoticed. Our memories of childhood differ with our age and sometimes our present changes our perception of the past. For older people it is the past, which provides the background against which the events of the present time are viewed.
Some of us are fortunate to have very clear memories. When I asked Mr Frank Thompson if he could tell me anything about the crash of the Air Ship R38. He said “Oh yes, we had been out gathering Blackberries” He knew exactly where he had been when he heard the bang. He went on to tell me of the pieces of the covering fabric which were scattered about over the fields between
the Humber and Goxhill and said, “everybody had a piece”. He described the appearance and smell of the pieces of fabric. His description resembled very closely that given by Neville Shute in his autobiography Slide Rule where he described the fabric used on the R101 which was built a few years later. The R 38crashed into the Humber close to the Corporation Pier at Hull on August 24th. 1921.
I crossed the Humber many times on the ferry in the company of Mr Tom Brown. He lived at Budford and went to Hull on the ferry every day. He bought his first season ticket in 1918 and he said that after the R 38 had crashed he remembered that the ferry passed very close to the wreckage, which was like a tangle of girders sticking out of the water. He said that the wreckage soon disappeared beneath the water I wanted to confirm these memories for although people may believe that they remember what happened, their memories are not always reliable and it is wise to get some confirmation before putting them into print. There are many ways in which information can be found from old records, almanacs, minute books, and similar sources but on this occasion there was one very obvious source. I contacted the Hull Daily Mail and their librarian gave me an article first published in the Hull Times. This gave me afirst hand account of the event.
Forty-four people died in the crash and only five were saved. All of the people who survived were in the rear part of the airship and all had remarkable tales to tell. The airship broke into two parts when turning to starboard. There were two explosions and burning petrol from the two petrol tanks, floating on the water caused a further hazard. After the crash the wreckage was lifted from the water and strenuous efforts were made to recover the bodies of the dead. This was the reason why the wreckage disappeared so quickly, not beneath the water, but on to the Riverside Quay where it was landed. The bodies of the English crew on board, which were recovered, were buried in the Western Cemetery where there is a monument to their memory.
The for-ard part of the airship was the part that exploded and burned. This wreckage fell into the deep channel close to the Corporation Pier whilst the aft part was not affected by fire and landed upon the Middle Sand. The last edition of the Hull Evening News had been run off and work in the print room had finished for the day but within an hour the paper was on the streets with a special edition which was eagerly received.
Early evening on August the 24th. 1921 and confirmation of an event which remained in the memory of a young boy who had just come home after gathering blackberries. Eighty years on and just one question remains. What did you have for tea that evening Frank? I would like to thank the Hull Mail for their valuable assistance and also the gentlemen who so kindly shared their memories with me.