The first, and arguably the most famous airship wave in UFO history, took place during 1896-7. The dirigible-typed objects appeared largely over the western United States, although many were also seen further afield, in Europe. Many of these airships were said to exhibit technology far in advance of what was available at the time. Just a few years later, Wales had its very own airship scare - or "scareship", in May 1909.
The mystery airship first darkened Welsh skies on the morning of Sunday, May 16th, 1909. A man who worked as a stockbroker's clerk in Cardiff, the Welsh capital, was startled to see five "foreigners" surveying the countryside. They also appeared to be taking photographs. The witness stated:
... the men were driven from spot to spot in a couple of traps, and the photographs were taken from cameras fixed above the seat of the traps and thus commanded extensive views of the surrounding country.The sighting occurred in the vicinity of a hill called Wenallt, on the outskirts of Cardiff and close to Caerphilly Mountain, which, itself, was soon to play an important role in the 1909 airship mystery.
Just two days later, on the night of Tuesday, May 18th, a Mr. C. Lethbridge was heading home to Roland Street, Cardiff, via Caerphilly Mountain. Mr. Lethbridge was a stevedore during winter months, and plied his trade as an itinerant Punch and Judy show entertainer in the summer. As he pushed the little cart which bore the tricks of his summer trade, Mr. Lethbridge was startled to see a cigar-shaped object, about 45 feet in length, lying on the grass adjacent to the mountain road. Two young men, apparently clad in heavy fur coats, worked away at something on the craft. Mr. Lethbridge related his encounter to the press as follows:
When I turned the bend at the summit I was surprised to see a long tube-shaped affair on the grass on the roadside, with two men busily engaged with something near by... They attracted my close attention because of their peculiar getup; they appeared to have big heavy fur coats and fur caps fitting tightly over their heads. I was rather frightened, but I continued to go on until I was within twenty yards of them, and then my idea as to their clothing was confirmed.Mr. Lethbridge was not the only witness to something odd in the skies over south-east Wales that night. A railway signalman at Cardiff's Queen Alexandra Dock, described how he saw the same, or a similar craft, overhead.
The noise of my little spring cart seemed to attract them, and when they saw me they jumped up and jabbered furiously to each other in a strange lingo — Welsh or something else; it was certainly not English. They hurriedly collected something off the ground, and then I was really frightened.
The long thing on the ground rose up slowly. I was standing still at the time, quite amazed, and when it was hanging a few feet off the ground the men jumped into a kind of little carriage suspended from it, and gradually the whole affair and the men rose in the air in a zigzag fashion. When they had cleared the telegraph wires that pass over the mountain, two lights like electric lamps shone out, and the thing went higher into the air, and sailed away towards Cardiff.
While attending to my duty signalling trains, I was startled by a weird object flying in the air. In appearance it resembled a boat of cigar shape. A whirring noise came from it. It was lit up by two lights, which could be plainly seen. It was travelling at a great rate, and was elevated at a distance of half a mile, making from the eastward.The cigar-shaped craft was also seen by men working at the nearby docks.
The local media quickly got wind of the sightings, and on Wednesday, March 19th, Mr. Lethbridge returned to the landing site, accompanied by a local reporter. The two men discovered clear evidence that something had come to rest on Caerphilly Mountain very recently.
The ground at the landing site had quite obviously been disturbed. Several mysterious items also littered the site. Amongst them, was a small plug on a chain. A red label adhered to the plug, with the following instructions printed on it, in French:
Important notice. This pin is attached to push back the shell from the valve when it is held on its seat; detach the pin and fix it near the tube of the pump at the extremity which fits on the valve.The inscription also included the word 'obus', which is the French word for an artillery shell. The men also discovered newspaper clippings at the scene, of articles relating to either the German army, or airships. Even more strange, was the presence of scraps of paper "bearing a mass of figures and letters of the alphabet formed in a style distinctly different to that of the average English hand".
So what landed on Caerphilly Mountain in 1909? Given the growing hostilities in Europe in the build-up to the First World War, many suspected the strange men were German spies. More recent interpretations consider the landing to be that of a UFO from elsewhere in the Universe. An alternative explanation is that the whole affair was an elaborate hoax. The fact that the landing took place late at night, on an isolated mountain road, where there was no guarantee of an audience, seems to rule out the hoax theory. There seems little doubt that someone and something landed late that night in May, 1909, scaring the wits out of poor Mr. Lethbridge. Unfortunately, due to the passage of time, it is unlikely that the Caerphilly Mountain airship mystery will ever be conclusively resolved.