During a family discussion of my paternal grandfather’s teaching flying during WW1, my mother recounted her experience of a beautifully sunny day on 27th May 1930.
There had been great disappointment in Manchester on the rainswept 16th December 1929, when the huge airship the R101 was expected to fly above the city. In fact the R101 missed Manchester, but would not have been visible anyway in those weather conditions.
Seven year old Jean Hunter was, six months later, on that May day, lined up with the rest of the schoolchildren in the playground of the Jewish Board school in Waterloo Road. Mum attended this school because the prison officers’ quarters, to which her father was entitled, was nearby. There was much excitement and dazzling of juvenile eyes peering into the skies. No sound came from above. Mum thinks that had there been any noise they would have been scared.
Suddenly, slowly, silently, a huge sausage shaped balloon glided overhead. This was not the R101, but its sister ship the R100. The Manchester Evening Mail described the transport thus: ‘Imagine an object with an enormous length equal to that of two football pitches, shaped like a massively long and cigar-shaped dart; cruising at almost roof-top height, with its silvery outer-skin gleaming in the May mid-day sun, and moving so slowly it seemed to hover: Well! I put it to you such a sight would stop traffic even now; and to an age hardly used to air-flight, it must have appeared awesome’.
Three days after little Jean’s eighth birthday on 2nd October 1930, the R101, on its maiden passenger flight crashed in France and burst into flames. This effectively ended the British air industry’s airship adventure, and the R100, that had so awed Manchester’s thousands, was dismantled in its shed at Cardington in November 1931 and eventually sold as scrap for £450.
In July 1969, it was at my parents’ home that I was to heave their grandson Michael out of bed to watch “one giant leap for mankind” on their small black and white television..