Letter on first trans-Atlantic flight from Scotland 100 years ago to be displayed in East Lothian

A LETTER carried on board the first ever east-to-west transatlantic flight from Scotland to New York exactly 100 years ago will go on public display today at the former airbase where it departed.

Monday, 1st July 2019, 8:06 pm
Ian Brown, Assistant Curator of Aviation at the National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, holds a letter written 100 years ago and dropped over Nova Scotia from the R.34 airship during its record-breaking double transatlantic crossing in 1919.
Ian Brown, Assistant Curator of Aviation at the National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, holds a letter written 100 years ago and dropped over Nova Scotia from the R.34 airship during its record-breaking double transatlantic crossing in 1919.

The letter was written on July 2, 1919 by Captain Reverend George Davys Jones who was a chaplain at the RAF East Fortune air base, just before the giant airship R34 took off for Mineola in Long Island, NY.

It arrived in the US with the 643ft-long craft some four and a half days later and was posted back to Capt. Jones’ sister Donie in Bournemouth, Dorset.

When the letter reached Donie, she replied complaining that she had to pay 3d extra duty for the letter being sent from America.

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Capt Jones’ century-old correspondence, written in the Officers Mess at East Fortune, has now returned to the venue where it was written after 100 years.

It will go on show for the first time at the airbase, now home to the National Museum of Flight.

Capt Jones wrote: “I write this at 12.45am on Wednesday morning. We are staying up to about 3am when the super Airship R34 is to leave in attempt to cross the Atlantic, I intend to give this letter to an officer on board the ship who will post it in New York.”

The letter, still in its original envelope with post marks, went on to state the details of the airship, the excitement the crossing was generating at the base and the “numerous reporters” who had travelled to chronicle the event.

The object, and other documents, were sold at Peter Wilson auctioneers in Cheshire in March, when they were saved for the nation by National Museums Scotland, who paid £450.

Ian Brown, Assistant Curator of Aviation, said: “It’s extremely exciting to have Rev. Jones’ letter returned to East Fortune, where it was written exactly 100 years ago, before its own double-crossing of the Atlantic.

“It’s a fascinating addition to our collections that gives a first-hand account of the excitement felt by everyone on the ground here at East Fortune about this historic flight.

“The R34’s aerial adventure was front-page news both in the UK and the USA and demonstrated new technology that many believed would be the future of long-distance travel. We hope that as many people as possible will visit during this centenary year to learn more about her record-breaking journey.”

The R34’s epic journey also involved the first arrival in the USA by air when Major Pritchard parachuted from the airship to take charge of the hundreds of ground crew required, as well as the world’s first human and feline trans-Atlantic aerial stowaways, Newcastle man, William Ballantyne and Wopsie the cat.

Capt Jones’ letter was dropped from the airship over Nova Scotia on July 5, discovered by Milton Weldon on November 8 at Selmah, Hants County, forwarded to Halifax, Nova Scotia and then posted back to England.