R34 Airship Centenary Weekend, Pulham St Mary, Norfolk

A special weekend to commemorate the centenary of the first ever two-way flight over the Atlantic was held on 13 & 14 July 2019. The giant R34 airship landed at Pulham Airship Station, completing its journey from East Fortune in Scotland to Mineola, New York. Thirty crew, two carrier pigeons, a cat and a stowaway had spent a total of 183 hours in the air, broken by a three day stay in New York, where they were fêted for their achievement, even meeting President Woodrow Wilson.

Pennoyer’s exhibition included a special soundtrack, and artefacts from members of the crew. A special illustrated Centenary Edition of Brig Gen Maitland’s fascinating Log of the R34’s flight was produced including all original photos and appendices, plus additional material. Copies are available in the shop.

Deborah II, Norfolk Tank Museum’s replica WWI Mark IV tank (as used at Pulham to tow airships) came to visit. She helped the 90-year-old daughter of a WWI photographer at the Air Station to unveil the refurbished village sign featuring both the R34 and R33 airships.

The most popular element of the weekend was a full-scale ‘land art’ outline of the R34 airship, which was marked out at the playing fields. Hundreds of visitors were astonished by its 198m length, and the aerial footage was shared worldwide on social media.

Sunday was a more thoughtful day, with the exhibition supplemented by three talks on the R34. Scot Mathieson gave a hugely entertaining account of his personal journey to discover more about the R34, its journey across Scotland, and the joys of ‘fruitarian’ cake. Art Lewry told the tragic story of the NS11 airship, lost from Pulham off the north Norfolk coast, in an accident two days after the R34’s return. Wendy Pritchard, granddaughter of Major Jack Pritchard, who parachuted from the R34 in New York to supervise its landing, presented an intimate account of the flight and her grandfather’s role, using Jack Pritchard’s own archive.

A memorable aspect of the weekend was the gathering of descendants of R34 crew members. As well as Wendy and her family, relatives of William Gent and Norman Scull were present, the latter’s daughter having travelled from Vancouver. Both Pritchard and Gent lost their lives in subsequent airship disasters; uniting their families was very moving. We were honoured to have enabled this reconnection, exactly one hundred years on.