In May 1936, the Hindenburg airship, on its return journey from America to Germany, made an unscheduled flight over Yorkshire in search of the grave of Skipton prisoner Lieutenant Franz Schulte who died of the Spanish flu and was buried at Morton Banks cemetery, Keighley.

Hindenburg flying over Steeton, near Keighley.© Unknown


The Hindenburg flew over Keighley just before 8pm on 22 May 1936 and from the airship a parcel was dropped. It contained a bunch of carnations, a small silver cross and a letter:

letter written by father schulte, along with transcript

Letter dropped from the Hindenburg during its flight over Keighley© Reproduced from Yorkshire Observer, 23 May 1936


The parcel was picked up by two Boy Scouts, Jack Gerard and Alf Butler, who were on their way to a Scout meeting. As requested, they placed the carnations on the grave which was visited by hundreds of people over the next few days. It was decided that the crucifix should not be left on the grave in case it was stolen by souvenir hunters, and Monsignor J.F. Russell of St Anne’s Roman Catholic Church, Keighley, wrote a letter to Father Schulte requesting that it be placed beside the church’s war memorial. This is the last time the crucifix was seen, although a crucifix with a German inscription written on the side was found in St Anne’s Church in 1992, but it later proved to be a fake.

The two boy scouts, Jack Gerard and Alf Butler, were filmed by British Movietone News placing the items on the grave and later met Father Schulte on a Granada TV programme in the 1960s.


photo of headshot of German officer

Lieutenant Franz Schulte© www.buddecke. dekasta13

Lieutenant Franz Schulte was one of 47 prisoners who died of the Spanish flu and was buried at Morton Banks cemetery (Find out more about the Spanish flu). Schulte was in the German Army Flying Corps and it was reported that he dropped more bombs on London than any other pilot in the First World War (Keighley News, 22 March 1919) before being shot down near Canterbury on 6 December 1917. He died at Keighley War Hospital on 2 March 1919 at the age of 26. His brother, Father John Paul Schulte, who dropped the parcel from the Hindenburg, was bound for work in the Arctic to teach local Inuit tribes the basics of Catholicism. He became known as the “The Flying Priest” as he was the first priest to hold Mass in the air.


photo of catholic priest giving mass onboard German airship

Father John Paul Schulte, “The Flying Priest”, performing mass on board the Hindenburg©