Pulham St Mary airship photographs saved from skip

R23 coming into land at Pulham The R23 based at Pulham was used to extend the range of fighter aircraft like the Sopwith Camel by launching them from an aerial base

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A rare collection of previously unseen photographs of World War I airships in south Norfolk have been saved from the skip.

Featuring aircraft based at Pulham St Mary from 1916 onwards, the images were taken by Royal Naval Air Service's photographer George Hamilton Wakefield.

Pulham St Mary was one of the UK's first main airship stations during WWI.

The collection of around 60 pictures were discovered in London by the Owens family, relatives of the photographer.

George Hamilton Wakefield George Hamilton Wakefield was based in Pulham from around 1916

The images have been given to Pulham's Pennoyer Centre which holds an archive of material about the air station.

Sheila King, chairwoman of the centre, said: "We get offered a lot of pictures but as these started coming through we realised they were quite amazing.

"Mrs Owen is the great niece of George Hamilton Wakefield. They came across these albums in a box that had been marked for the skip.

"They thought they'd be useful so kept them in the house for many years, but it was only at Christmas when Michael Owens found us.

"It's just amazing to think these photos, fantastic quality large scale prints from the original plates, could have so easily ended up in the skip."

Flying on Norfolk chocolate

R34 in Mineola, 1919

The R34 airship was the first in 1919 to make a return flight across the Atlantic flying from Edinburgh to New York and then back to Pulham.

Records show the crew dined on stew and - like WWI soldiers had on the front line - Marching Chocolate produced by Caley's of Norwich.

The log of Brigadier General Maitland records: Fog thicker and thicker, so we can see nothing. Think lunch would be a good idea. Excellent beef stew and potato, Caley's chocolate to follow.

Ms King said: "It's lovely to know Caley's was important back then. The beef stew was apparently heated on the exhaust pipe cooker and the potatoes peeled mid-air. It's fascinating idea of them doing this in an airship across the Atlantic and taking Caley's chocolate to New York."

The station at Pulham opened in 1916 and employed 3,000 servicemen and 2,000 civilians. Airships flew from there until 1930.

Locally the airships became known as the Pulham Pigs after a local man was rumoured to have looked up at a huge early airship floating above the village and said, "Thet luk loike a gret ol' pig" and the name stuck.

It was the pioneering days of aviation. Airships from the base were used for the first parachute drop from an airship and to test launching fighter planes from them, as an aerial base, to extend their range.

Mr Hamilton Wakefield's photographs offer an insight to the airships that is rarely seen.

Ms King said: "I think because they are taken by an RNAS officer employed as a photographer there's access to shots of airships you don't normally see.

"Because of the quality of the photographs it enables us to zoom in and understand a lot more about their construction, the systems they had on board and so on that was previously unknown."

An exhibition to launch the photographs opens at the Pennoyer Centre in Pulham St Mary on 14 April until mid-May.

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