Record Breaker – Heath’s Report

Air Mechanic Redvers Robert Heath

This account of NS11’s record breaking flight was written by Air Mechanic Redvers Robert Heath who was NS11′s 2nd wireless operator. It provides a very different view from that of the commander and gives us a vivid insight into what life would have been like on board during a flight of long duration. The report was kindly provided by Michael J Dunn.

Leaving Longside about 2 P.M. we made for Peterhead, reaching there somewhere about 2.10 P.M. There seem to be a great deal of excitement there considering the fact that the men from Longside were generally known as Shirkers by the civilian populace. It was practically a perfect day as far as the weather was concerned, the only trouble was a little mist. It would certainly have suited me better to have been home and spending the time with a nice young lady.

The course we made was South and with only 1 engine running reached Aberdeen about 4-20 P.M. but the town was enveloped in smoke, the only things in sight being the chimney stacks of the factories and the tallest of the church spires, in the background the peaks of the mountains covered in snow made a glorious sight. This combined with the setting of the sun made one think of the home life. Just about this time appeared what is known to sailors as White Horses on the sea, as a rule they are a sign of the wind but most fortunately they soon disappeared leaving with them a beautiful moonlight night. I might mention here that we had a gramophone aboard, it passed many an hour away cheerily which would have been most monotonous. Continuing our journey South we soon came in sight of the Bell Rock Light. By this time the part of the crew off watch had turned into sleeping bags to get what sleep they could before they too over the night watch.

The arrangements for sleeping are fairly awkward although many imagine that the cars of British airships are nice and comfortable. The table is roughly 6 foot long and one man sleeps there whilst another sleeps underneath. The third man had to sleep where he could on the floor.

When we reached Bell Rock we altered course back to the North and cruised during the night between Aberdeen & Rattray Head which is about 15 miles or so South of Peterhead. During the night it turned very cold indeed and even with all our flying gear on we felt it & it was the same until about 10 a.m. when it turned warmer. The clouds made one think that the wind was rising again but it kept fairly calm which relieved us a lot.

Our course at this time was South and just on the coast line we saw the first train from Peterhead to Aberdeen winding its way through the numerous valleys and hills. I shouldn’t have mind if I had been travelling on it, but the fact remained that we were out for a Hundred Hours flight and it would be our turn to travel in it on a future date.

We still proceeded South and eventually made May Island about 2-30 in the afternoon. Here we made across land to East Fortune Airship Station and circled round there but we received little or no enthusiasm. Leaving here we made for sea again crossing over Dunbar quite a small town but certainly more respectable looking than Peterhead.  Crossing the coast we still kept a southerly course reaching the Farne Islands of Grace Darling’s fame just pass there the starboard engine packed up. The engineers immediately set to work and got the port engine going and discovered that the magneto coupling had broken down on the now useless engine.

We then turned back and made for East Fortune to pick up the necessary parts. To do this we intended to lower a basket on a rope get the men on the ground to drop the goods in and then we would haul it up. On reaching our destination we found that we were much too heavy to attempt to risk that task. So we decided to wait to the morning.

Here the skipper did what we afterwards discovered to be a most foolish thing. He let all our water ballast go. More about that later. I might mention here that apart from bread all our food consisted of tin beans soup and Maconochie Rations and with the aid of some of these empty tins the engineer made the necessary repairs to the broken down engines.

Of course you quite realise that if anything goes wrong in the air you have to rack your brains to discover any ways or means to effect repairs and at times the most ingenious methods are used.

When we left East Fortune we proceeded North and as we passed Bass Rock it gave one an uncanny but impressive feeling as it stood out like a silent sentinel of the Firth of Forth.

The coast lights gave an excellent contrast between war & peace times before which the coast was able to be seen if you were not far from it but now the light houses with their lights circling round made a good sight. Monday night then passed uneventful but cold and damp. Dawn broke with a rather overcast sky but the weather report gave us encouragement. After breakfast we made our delayed visit to East Fortune and picked up the necessary parts and we were able to make permanent repairs to the engine.

Leaving East Fortune we slowly made our way North and a few of us gave the car a much needed clean out.  After dinner a few of the crew had a wash and it was very interesting the way it was done. One mug of water had to do for a wash and also a shave.

The following is the method we used: Shaving first we then got plenty of lather on the brush and then rubbed it over the face and neck and then rubbed it on the arms and this constituted a wash and shave. This was the first time since we left the deck that any of the, crew had had anything like a clean up and although it was the best that could be done it made feel fit for anything after 48 hours without clothes off or a wash. No doubt you will be disgusted to have to have done such a thing but please remember that we could not go to the hot and cold water taps and draw just what we wanted.

Night covered us once again by this time and a lovely moonlight night.  About 8 o’clock P.M. we flew over Aberdeen and it was one of the most glorious sights I ever saw. A fairly large town at its busiest time. We flew straight over Union Street and there were hundreds of people with pocket flash lamps flashing to us. We had our Aldis Lamp which shows up well in the dark and people of Aberdeen really thought it was a searchlight. During the night we proceeded North West from Fraserburgh and when dawn of Wednesday broke the stillness of night it found us at the famous naval base of Scapa Flow. The German fleet lay there silent and humbled.

It was a most thrilling sight. The ships were too numerous to count and the British ships with them gave a striking contrast between the two fleets. One the greatest in the world and the other now merely a past to be either forgotten or remembered as time will show.

The contrast was this that while ships of the British Navy were smart, spick and span, the ships of the late German Fleet were in a rotten condition. The decks of them where had been scrubbed by the men of the British Isles were as white as snow but ironwork was in a filthy condition.

About 10 o’clock the wind increased and the Base ordered us to return South which we did immediately but it took us all day to get from the Orkney Islands to Fraserburgh but fortunately by this time the wind had dropped and we had done 76 hours so as you will know we did not want to pack up. I must mention here that we found ourselves we found ourselves short of water so we had to go exceedingly careful. We found that there were just about 2 gallons for drinking purposes and also for the radiators of the engine but we managed to eke it out. When we were off Peterhead we received a wireless message from the Rear Admiral at Peterhead to the following effect: WELL DONE.  I HOPE YOU CAN STICK IT.

Wednesday night came upon us with a lovely moon but it was absolutely the coldest that we experienced. My watch was from 12 mid night to 6 a.m. and I really don’t know how I got through it everybody felt the same. We did the same that night as previous and cruised between Aberdeen and Peterhead. Dawn came on us the last day of our trip and brought with it one brought with it one of the loveliest days we had although it became overcast during the afternoon.

We intended stopping out until Friday but as we were so short of water we had to return that night. About six all the crew of the ship off watch collected forrard and as soon as the hundred hours were up we let up a hearty cheer and the skipper with forethought had taken a bottle of Port which he handed round to the crew to celebrate the WORLDS OFFICIAL RECORD FOR FLYING. We then returned to Longside drawing to a close a flight lasting 100 hours 50 minutes.

The food of this flight consisted of tinned food except bread of which we carried twelve loaves. The tinned foods were salmon, unsweetened milk, soups, Maconochie Rations. Drinking water was in a petrol tank suspended over the car.

Redvers Robert Heath should have been on board NS11 on the night it was lost but had appendicitis so missed the flight. He was later posted to India with the RAF and it was whilst there that he died from peritonitis following a second operation for appendicitis.