This is a photograph I’ve been wanting to see again for years and years. I recently came across a collection of slides my father had taken and I had them scanned. The collection has revealed a plethora of images (and rekindled memories) from my childhood.
This must be in the late 1960’s. We went to Wormwood Scrubs, an area of open ground - not really a park in those days, in west London, near the prison which bears the same name. The Scrubs, as it was known locally, was open fields and common land for a long time. It was leased from local government by the military for exercising cavalry horses and other types of manouvres. At some point it was even officially mandated as duelling grounds.
I’m not sure now exactly what was going on, but army men were sending people up with the Barrage balloon, who were then jumping off and returning to the ground on tethered parachutes. Whether the parachutists were from the army, or cadets, or members of the public, I can’t now recall. All are equally likely. Health and Safety wasn’t really a thing back then.
As a child of about 7-years of age, this whole thing was awesome to see, but in particular, the balloon itself, which was so huge and such an extraordinary shape. It was one of the biggest, most extraordinary things I had yet seen.
It wasn’t until later that I came to learn that this wasn’t an airship as such. It never went anywhere and didn’t carry passengers. Its purpose was to defend against aircraft attack during the Second World War (and earlier) by raising aloft steel cables to ensnare attacking aircraft, making their approach more difficult. During the war, there would have been hundreds visible over London to defend against air raids.
The design of the kite balloon, having a shape and cable bridling which stabilise the balloon and reduce drag, meant that it could be operated in higher wind conditions than a spherical balloon. Some examples carried small explosive charges that would be pulled up against the aircraft to ensure its destruction.