The rocket man dream­ing of first blast mail

Dra­matic trib­ute to is­land pioneer

The Sunday Post (Newcastle) - - HISTORY - By Mur­ray Scougall mscougall@sun­day­

IN a world be­fore emails and text mes­sages, one man had big dreams for faster com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Ger­man rocket en­gi­neer Ger­hard Zucker was con­vinced he could rev­o­lu­tionise the postal ser­vice by send­ing mail by rocket – and, in 1934, he came to the Western Isles to test his the­ory.

Zucker reached for the stars but in­stead his at­tempts went up – and quickly fell down – in smoke.

In July 1934, he tried to send a rocket full of let­ters from Har­ris to Scarp and vice-versa but failed mis­er­ably, with many of the let­ters re­trieved from the burned­out mis­sile cov­ered in scorch marks.

Nat­u­rally, it prompted huge in­ter­est from lo­cals and the tale is still passed on to­day.

His story in­spired a 2006 movie, but now a new fam­ily play from the Na­tional The­atre Of Scot­land – Rocket Post – is go­ing on a na­tional tour this month.

“My part­ner is from Har­ris, so we visit there of­ten and it re­mains a story a lot of peo­ple talk about to this day,” ex­plained the play’s writer and di­rec­tor Lewis Hether­ing­ton.

“They talk about this ec­cen­tric man who came to their is­land and it’s a quirky side note in his­tory for lo­cal peo­ple, but Ger­hard staked his life’s am­bi­tion on this work­ing.

“I thought it pre­sented a great way to talk about how and why we com­mu­ni­cate and be­gan re­search­ing those four days he spent on the Western Isles.”

Zucker and his rocket post plan first came to the pub­lic’s at­ten­tion in his home­land in 1931 and failed tests fol­lowed.

He em­i­grated to the UK three years later and at­tempted to in­ter­est the Bri­tish Govern­ment in his idea.

“One of the things that came out of my re­search was the in­con­sis­tent ac­counts about him.

“Some peo­ple wrote him off and said he was noth­ing but a show­man, oth­ers thought he had some ne­far­i­ous ideas while some were will­ing to give him a chance.

“The rea­son he chose Har­ris is be­cause he heard about a preg­nant woman

who was about to give birth to twins and couldn’t get off the is­land or re­ceive med­i­cal care due to the rough sea.

“It wasn’t just let­ters that could be sent by rocket – he said items like med­i­cal sup­plies could also be trans­ported.

“There was some ten­sion when he ar­rived on the is­land – a Ger­man ar­riv­ing in the time be­tween the wars – but the younger res­i­dents were ex­cited by it.”

Af­ter fur­ther failed at­tempts else­where in the UK, he was sent back to Ger­many and his grand plans never did come to fruition, but Lewis be­lieves he was on to some­thing.

“His idea about re­quir­ing quicker com­mu­ni­ca­tion was cor­rect, but in­stead of rocket mail we have email,” he added.

“We’re look­ing for­ward to tak­ing the pro­duc­tion to the Western Isles and around the coun­try.”

The tour be­gins in Easter­house on Septem­ber 19 and goes to Stornoway, Ul­lapool, Thurso, For­res, Tar­land, Port­soy, Aberdeen, Mount Ver­non, St An­drews, Giffnock, Stir­ling, Al­loa, Falkirk and Pais­ley, end­ing on Oc­to­ber 21.

■ Rocket post­man Ger­hard Zucker with a pro­to­type in 1934.

■ A let­ter sent to Ger­hard at the time and the route he hoped his rocket would take.

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