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Published on: 8/19/2004 Last Visited: 7/5/2006Born in Shrewsbury, Michael Rope graduated from Birmingham College as an engineer and, at the outbreak of the First World War, was drafted into the Royal Naval Air Service. In 1915, he became Lead Designer on the SS Zero airship project. The airship was highly successful and seventy-seven were eventually put into service in both reconnaissance and anti-submarine roles.
After the war, he transferred into the newly formed RAF and spent much of his early service in the Far East. It was while stationed at Martlesham Heath in Suffolk, however, that he met and fell in love with local girl Doreen Jolly from Grange Farm (in the days when it really was a farm) in Kesgrave.
Michael Rope continued to work on airship design and construction, eventually joining the team responsible for producing the revolutionary new R101 at the Royal Airship Works based at Cardington.
His contribution to the project was significant. Among his innovative developments were a "parachute" wiring system for securing the gas bags which gave the airship its lift, a new auto gas valve and a variable-pitch, wind-driven propeller to power the on-board electric generator.
He became so intimately involved and dedicated to the new airship, his colleague T S D Collins was prompted to say of him that "he knew more about the R101 and about the mechanics of airship handling than anyone else in Britain."
Michael Rope's parachute wiring system was loosened to allow gas bag capacity to be increased. This created further chafing problems, cured as best as it could be by covering any protruding steelwork with fabric pads. Michael Rope was far from happy with this state of affairs and wrote to the Chief Designer, Lieutenant-Colonel Richmond expressing his concerns.
Fifteen months earlier, at the height of construction, Michael Rope had married Doreen.
Lieutenant-Colonel Richmond commented that it was "almost bigamy" because Michael Rope was "married to the R101 already."
One of the duty crew reported finding a very tired Michael Rope patrolling the gantries within the hull, inspecting the rigging and gas bags, concerned, as ever, for the airship's safety.
Suddenly she slipped into a steep dive lasting a terrifying thirty seconds. Crockery and glass smashed. A crew member enjoying a quiet cigarette in the smoking lounge was thrown to the floor. Only swift action from the helm saved her from destruction, the airship's nose lifted for a moment.
The remaining forty-six people, including Christopher Thomson and Michael Rope perished in the wreck.
In the months following the disaster, permission was given by Bishop Cary-Elwes for a chapel to be built in Kesgrave, on land donated by William Jolly, as a memorial to Michael Rope.
Work began in June 1931, with a private ceremony during which the foundation stone was laid on behalf of Michael Rope's eight month old son Crispin.
Constructed of Suffolk brick with Weldon stone dressings, the original chapel seated sixty people. Many family members and friends contributed to the furnishing and decoration of the church.
The stain glass window situated over the altar was donated by Michael Rope's mother and depicts the Holy Family and Saint Michael to whom the church is dedicated. The R101 can be seen in the background. Mrs Rope also donated the chalice and monstrance.
An inscription under the Sanctuary window reads "Pray for Michael Rope, who gave his soul to God in the wreck of His Majesty's Airship R101. Beauvois, October 5th, 1930."
- www.kesgrave.org.uk/community/ - [Cached]
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