Aircraft on display in May 1938. Image taken from The Bedford Press Collection BP box 277 courtesy of John Day.
June 1940 - Housing returning soldiers from the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940.
British soldiers waiting to be rescued on the beach at Dunkirk in May 1940.
In a daring operation in what has become one of the most heroic incidents in British history over 350,000 British and Allied soldiers were evacuated from the Dunkirk beaches in 10 days from 25 May to June 4 1940. The efforts of both servicemen and civilians who mustered together all types of boats to rescue the soldiers from an advancing German army saved the lives of thousands of men. Shed No 1 had a part to play in this terrific operation - it is recorded that a number of army detachments returned from Dunkirk were housed there until more suitable accommodation could be found for them.
1939 - 1945. Wartime activities.
In 1951 Cardington was to see the return of an airship when Lord Ventrys airship The Bournemouth was assembled here. In the following decades there have been numerous airships residing in the sheds and each has been affectionately welcomed by the people of Bedford
Eye Witness report 1958.
Phil Collins received his call up papers in 1958. Here is an extract from his memories of Cardington when he first encountered the sheds:
" I remember one job which several of us were given to do probably the day before we were moved out to square bashing camp was to go out and push in off the sports field the cricket sight screens. They were to be put inside one of the large balloon sheds, which even now to me are an amazing size and sight. We got the screens to the doors of one of the two hangers and we wondered how on earth the doors could be opened? We soon found out when an N.C.O. turned a handle on a machine attached to one of the two doors to the shed and pressed a switch and with a groaning and rumbling noise this massive door moved on what seemed like railway lines several feet, just enough to push the screens inside. The view inside was amazing, I had never seen such massive indoor space in my life before, it still even now seems marvellous. It appeared that the whole M.T. section was parked inside, they looked like a set of dinky toys such was the size of the building." (Phil Collins RAF Cardington 1958).
March 1966 - The Balloon Unit remained on the site until March 1966 when it moved to Hullvinton.
The sheds were originally built to house the giant airships. Above is the famous R101 built at the Royal Airship Works which later became the site for RAF Cardington. (Photo taken by Anthony Poingdestre kindly sent in by his niece Mrs Barbara Childs.)
The two sheds January 2016 - held with much affection by locals.
1915 - 1930 As is well documented elsewhere these enormous sheds were constructed to house the rigid airships originally intended for use in WW1. Shed No 1 (on the left) was built for the Shorts Bros in 1915 by A J Main & Co of Glasgow and in 1918/19 the R31 and R32 airships were completed here. Two years later in 1921 work on the ill-fated R38 airship was completed and its subsequent crash and loss of 44 lives ended this first phase of airship development at Cardington and indeed for the United Kingdom. For the next few years Shed no 1 housed the R33 airship which was brought out in 1924 and used for training.
In 1925 the government of the day chose to revive airship production and ordered two new airships, one to be built at Cardington (the R101) and the other at Howden in East Yorks (the R100) which on completion would be transferred to Cardington. A second shed would be required to accommodate the R100 and in 1926 a former airship shed at Pulham was dismantled and moved to Cardington alongside Shed no 1. During the next few years and especially in 1930 the sheds and their contents became the focus of national and international attention with the spectacle of both airships taking to the skies.....Of course in the same year despite the success of the R100 in its triumphant flight to and from Canada the British airship dream collapsed when the R101 crashed in France claiming 48 lives.
Aircraft Storage 1932 - 1938 During these years the sheds continued to provide work for local people when they were used for the storage of military airplanes. The array of airplanes would have been a fabulous sight for the people working in the sheds at this time. It is recorded that at one time over 300 types of airplanes were stored here.
This newspaper snippet is part of a front page article describing a Home Day at RAF Cardington in September 1945 and illustrates the type of work that was carried out in Shed No 1 during wartime. Decoy inflatable tanks were also produced in this period. This type of work was to continue in the Sheds for many years after the war. Thousands of balloons were made at Cardington or sent there for repairs and testing.