...The Rochester Years, from Fonthill Media
Title: Short Brothers, The Rochester years
Author: Philip MacDougall
Publisher: Fonthill Media
My first reaction to this one was of pleasant surprise. I was born and brought up on the Kent and Sussex border and have had a lifelong interest in military aviation. Naturally I am familiar with the likes of the famous Sunderland Flying Boat and Stirling bomber, but until now I had not been aware that they were built in North Kent, at Rochester, beside the River Medway.
A 176-page hardback book, the 11 chapters take us through the story of the Short Bothers from their early days making balloons in a small factory in Battersea before their involvement with heavier than air flying machines and a move to a new factory at Eastchurch, on the Isle of Sheppey. The 3 brothers were Eustace, Horace and Oswald. They were the first to commercially build copies of the Wright Model A under licence and then they stated to have an interest in aircraft capable of carrying torpedoes and float planes. They moved to Rochester for a factory to build landplanes, and where they were able to expand to a site on the Medway, where seaplanes could be built and tested using the River Medway. I also learnt that Shorts were first in developing a folding wing mechanism, so valuable for aircraft that might be stowed on a warship. It goes on to their larger Flying Boats, from the early Singapore and to the passenger carrying flying boats, as used by Imperial Airways. An interesting reminder that for international travel there was not the network of international airports around the world that we take for granted today. Hence the use of Flying Boats, including the interesting looking Short-Mayo composite combination with two pick-a-back aircraft, first test flown on the Medway. It goes on to cover the famous Sunderland as well as the RAF's first four-engined bomber, the Stirling. Also, that at first they built a half-scale flying model to test the design. Among many interesting snippets in the book, then read about the underground tunnel they built at their Medway site to protect their workforce. One of the reasons for choosing Rochester for their factories was not just the available land, but also the access to the large workforce availability of the Medway towns. Hence, when after the war the decision was made to move the factory to Belfast in Northern Ireland, so it was a major employment loss to Rochester and the surrounding area.
I learnt a lot from this story of Shorts, particularly of their association with Rochester in North Kent, and are we don't think of in terms of aircraft manufacturing these days. As well as the story of the aircraft and the Short brothers themselves, it also illustrates the importance that such a major factory can have within a community and peoples livelihoods. An enlightening read for many who now live in North Kent I suspect as well as just the aviation history enthusiast.
Thanks to Fonthill Media for our review copy.