The R101 Tragedy, a Personal Tale.

The R101 Airship in fight.
The R101 in Flight. From SkyeWaye collection Copyright Victor A. Chapman 2009

 Today is the anniversary of the R101 disaster.

I’d like to tell you a bit about a chap called Thomas Arthur Auckland Key. I was asked earlier this year by an old friend to find out if rumour she had heard as a child that the father of her friend in the 1950s had been involved with the R101. Here’s what I found out back then.

Thomas was born on the 9th of June 1896 in Hastings to an Arthur Auckland Key and Katherine Key (née Towner). I assume that his slightly unusual given name of Auckland had some sort of family connection; all of the immediate Key family shared it. His father listed his occupation as ‘Professor of Music, which was most likely just his posh way of saying he was a professional musician. 

 On the 23rd of March 1915 Thomas joined the Navy, and that early in World War 1 he would have been a volunteer. He rose to be a Leading Hand serving on the Ark Royal (no not the famous Aircraft Carrier but an earlier Seaplane Carrier which operated in the Mediterranean). He was transferred to the RAF at Cardington just outside Bedford on 23rd March 1918. Lots of seamen followed a similar path since airships were then still considered more like ships than aircraft and were operated by the Royal Navy. On 28th July 1924 he married Gladys Mildred Palmer at St Matthew’s church in Fulham. They had one child, a daughter Thomasina Auckland Key, my friend’s school chum.

He was a Charge-Hand Engineer on board the R101 when it crashed in Allone in Picardie in the early hours of the 5th of October 1930.There is a memorial to those that died in the accident at the site in France, and one in St Mary’s Churchyard Cardington where the crew were all buried together.

You can see a full list of the crew and passengers on that ill-fated flight here.


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