How technology can help bring the heroes of the past to life...

An information board linked to remembrance trails telling the stories of First World War soldiers on the French frontline, Le Truo Aid Post cemetery France.
An information board linked to remembrance trails telling the stories of First World War soldiers on the French frontline, Le Truo Aid Post cemetery France.
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As Britain readies herself to mark 100 years since the War, the Lancashire Evening Post will be covering the landmark with a series of articles to ensure the conflict is never forgotten

Nigel Caley has a consuming passion which takes up a lot of his time, but even more of his house.

Former specialist teacher, Nigel, is a Fylde resident airship expert, with the biggest privately held library of airship memorabilia in the country; including a 10ft-airship R32 model suspended from his hall roof.

His passion was ignited after his grandparents told him their witness accounts of the R38 airship crash and the first Zeppelin, shot down over London in the First World War.

In 1921, the R38 took off on its fourth flight; it’s destination the Royal Navy Air Service in Pulham.

Tragically the airship structurally failed, and plummeted into the Humber estuary, killing 49 of the 52 people on board.

C.S. Lewis in 1917 (left) with friend Ernest Moore during World War I. Moore would later be killed, as were many of Lewis' friends

C.S. Lewis in 1917 (left) with friend Ernest Moore during World War I. Moore would later be killed, as were many of Lewis' friends

In the years before the R38, the first Zeppelin was shot down while returning from a raid over the United Kingdom, commander and seven of the eight crew members were killed.

Nigel, from Poulton-le-Fylde, recalls how he felt after his grandparents told him their stories.

He says: “My grandfather was the first to tell me about an airship, he actually saw the R38 split into two and crash into the Humber, I was mesmerised by the story.

“I then went to my Nan’s and remember saying, “did you ever see an aircraft Nanny”? and she said she remembered being woken in the middle of the night by her father and seeing the Zeppelin shot down.

“I’ve been hooked on the subject ever since”.

Nigel, 47, has been collecting airship memorabilia for more than 40 years and finds the airships, and their history, exhilarating.

His expansive library of airship material includes a vast amount of books on the topic, including many by authors who have turned to Nigel for his airship expertise and passion.

John Swinfield, author of Airship: Design, Development and Disaster, published this year, interviewed Nigel and quoted the airship enthusiast throughout his book.

“Nigel has a vast knowledge of airships and his collection of memorabilia is amazing,” says John.

“His views are intelligent and articulate and interestingly, he puts up a defence for the government-sponsored R101, at the time dubbed the Socialist ship in the newspapers.”

The R101 was a Government-funded airship and was designed and built by an Air Ministry appointed team, completed in 1929.

The R101 was one of a pair of airships built as part of a British government programme to develop airships. When built, the R101 was the biggest flying craft in the country.

However, in 1930, following further modifications, the airship crashed in France on October 5, killing 48 of the 54 people on board.

Nigel says: “The R101 was plagued by bureaucracy, and when it crashed the blame lay at the feet of the designers, which I don’t think is right.

“It was the storm which brought down the airship, not the design, and I don’t think any other ship faced with the same storm would have done any better.

“The fact which has been overlooked is that the captain, Major Scott, had been given a very accurate warning of the weather conditions that day and flew regardless, even though it was apparent from previous flights that Major Scott’s judgement was deteriorating.

“The ultimate blame should heavily rest at his feet, but no-one at the time thought that, and automatically blamed poor design, Barnes Wallis being one of those people.

“There is no denying that Bruce Wallis was an incredible inventor and engineer, but I think he sometimes said things in the heat of the moment, things which he would later regret.

“In the aftermath of the R101 many of his comments stated that the design of the ship was to blame, and this was just accepted as law.

“I think that Wallis’s comments were clouded by the anger and upset he felt after the crash, because he did lose a lot of close friends in the tragedy of R101.

“It was the largest public funeral of the time, and it is hard to see the achievements of the airship after such a large scale bereavement”.

Nigel has researched many different airships, not just British-built ones, and he intends to continue researching his abiding passion.

He says: “I have thought about writing my own book to research Russian airships, because that is where there is such a big gap in the history of this subject, but nevertheless I will continue to research all different airships, as there is such a romance about them.

“These brave men who went off on these epic flying voyages, making the rules up as they went along, it is just such a tremendous romance of the past to research.

“To see something of that sheer size and magnificence flying right above your head, it is something that I would love to see, but I fear I never will.”

New technology is helping highlight the little-known contribution and sacrifice of women during the Great War.

More than 650 women who died during the war are commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) worldwide, and the organisation is using its new information panels to highlight some of the stories of those who gave their lives.

The commission’s 100th information panel has been installed at Etaples Military Cemetery in France, revealing the stories of two female casualties of the First World War – Nursing Sister Dorothea Crewdson and YMCA volunteer Bertha ‘Betty’ Stevenson.

During the war, the area around the small fishing port of Etaples – known to many British soldiers as “Eat Apples” – became the largest British military base in the world, home to army training and reinforcement camps as well as hospitals.

Started in May 1915, 
Etaples Military Cemetery is now the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in France with almost 11,000 Commonwealth burials.

The cemetery’s new visitor information panel reveals the stories of both Nursing Sister Crewdson and YMCA volunteer Stevenson.

Dorothea Crewdson served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment Nurse and was transferred to Etaples in 1915.

In the summer of 1918 Etaples was attacked by German aircraft, leaving Sister Crewdson injured.

She refused treatment so she could continue to care for her patients, earning her the Military Medal, but died in 1919 after contracting peritonitis.

In April 1917, Betty Stevenson was posted to Etaples as a YMCA driver, responsible for transporting relatives from England visiting the wounded in hospital, and was killed by an air raid in 1918 while helping French refugees.

She was given a military funeral and was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre avec Palme, for courage and devotion to duty.

Both women’s stories are featured through the QR Code (Quick Response Code) included on the commission’s information panel, drawing attention of visitors to the role of women in the Great War.

The QR code on the panel at Etaples also details the links between the site and some of the important literary figures of the war, including poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, and novelists CS Lewis and Vera Brittain.

Owen and Sassoon were both based at Etaples for periods of the war and refer to life at the camps in their correspondence and work.

CS Lewis, perhaps best known for the children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia, was wounded in April 1918 and treated in hospital at Etaples before returning to the UK.

Acclaimed writer Vera Brittain served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment Nurse at Etaples during the war.

Her fiance Roland Leighton, two other close friends Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow, and her brother Edward Brittain MC were all killed during the war and her work Testament of Youth is considered a classic for its depiction of the war’s impact on British society.

Claire Douglas, from the CWGC, said: “The Commonwealth War Graves Commission believes this initiative will help bring home to all of us the great sacrifice made by servicemen and women in two world wars.

“It is a powerful way to combine traditional forms of remembrance, with new technology, to ensure we never forget.”