Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre
Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre was formerly known as RAF Montrose Museum, and can be found on Waldron Road, east of the A92 as it leaves the north end of Montrose.
The museum lies on the site of RAF Montrose, and uses some of the original buildings to house its exhibits. Although not used by the museum, a number of the original 1913 aircraft hangars still survive on the site, having been used as factory building within the adjacent industrial estate.
A recent (2007) addition to the museum has been the Romney hangar and Nissen hut, thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. This has significantly increased the display area, together with the number and size of exhibits on show. Montrose Air Station has added a further three buildings in addition to the Romney and Nissen. These house the Richard Moss Collection, the John Betty reference library, while the third new building is a restoration of the mechanised transport building built for the Royal Flying Corps in 1913.
The Romney has had an extension built to house a new pilot training centre, with delivery of a Sea Vampire from RAF Leuchars expected. The station also has a Link Trainer.
In the midst of numerous closures, this is a growing museum and collection, with both indoor and outdoor exhibits worth searching out. Easily missed from the A92, which can be very busy at times, a roadside sign (small!) does help to identify its location.
Montrose Air Station was Britain's first operational military air base, and was established on February 26, 1913. The first of 12 Government planned air stations to be operated by the Royal Flying Corps, it was first used by No II (AC) Squadron. After the squadron moved to France in 1914, the station remained inactive until 1918, when it became a major training base when Americans arrived to train for the Western Front, and Canadian and British squadrons were formed.
World War II saw the aerodrome once again became a training base, with numerous personnel serving there. Many Allied nationals were to serve and train there, including Commonwealth, Polish, Czech, American, Russian, Turkish and Free French personnel. A single bombing raid on the area resulted in the loss off six station personnel. Together with its function as a training base, Montrose also served as an operational airfield for Hurricane and Spitfire squadrons which formed part of the air defences for Edinburgh, and flew regular mission over Norway.
Refurbishment and Battle of Britain exhibition
In June 2010, the centre received a Heritage Lottery grant of £48,000 which allowed the floorspace of one of its larger buildings to be doubled to incorporate artefacts and displays on pilot training.floorspace of the larger building to be doubled to incorporate artefacts and displays on pilot training.
In September 2010, the centre opened its newly refurbished area (although it was yet to be fully completed) with an exhibition to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, which ran until the end of October.
Angus Council’s Infrastructure Services Committee blocks Spitfire Way
Towards the end of 2012, Montrose council, or to be more accurate Angus Council’s Infrastructure Services Committee rejected a proposal to name an unnamed road leading to the centre Spitfirea Way, in memory of those who had served at the station.
While the finger is easily pointed at the council, the rejection appears to be undue influence of Angus Council’s infrastructure services committee, and the Town Hall bureaucrats it empowers. It was notable that all four Montrose councillors, David May, Bill Duff, Paul Valentine, and Mark Salmond, were in favour of naming the road Spitfire Way, as a tribute to the Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre.
A media item went into more detail behind the rejection, noting that bureaucrats from the Town Hall had claimed the reason was the cost of new signs, and objections from business on the road, but it was claimed that the signs would only have cost £200, and while one business on the road did register an objection to the naming, at least three were in favour:
Peter Davies, secretary of the Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre, is particularly angry because the council asked them to come up with a name for the nearby road.
But after suggesting “Spitfire Way”, the SNP-controlled council’s infrastructure services committee rejected the idea, claiming businesses on the unnamed road would face “significant” costs such as new stationery.
Mr Davies said: “All it is is two signposts which would cost around £200, nothing more. No-one has objected except one business. Everyone thinks it’s a bloody farce – they’re talking about it in the town. I have never heard such nonsense that if an unnamed road has a new name it needs a new postcode.
He joked: “There are some people who think the council wants to call it Alex Salmond Way. I wouldn’t say there’s a political motive but it does make you wonder.”
The museum’s membership secretary Neil Wernick said: “As a group we think they’re potty!”
Terry Beedie, manager of Howden Joinery in the estate, was one of at three firms to back the plan.
He said: “There’s not any cost to us. I’m a local guy born and bred and it would be great to have a bit of nostalgia. The council has never contacted us. It’s just red tape getting in the way as is so often the case.”
And a spokesman from Royal British Legion Scotland joined in the criticism, saying:
“It is unfortunate that Angus Council feel unable to consider renaming the street outside Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre as Spitfire Way,” he said.
“The site is of considerable historical significance as the UK’s first airfield and it seems regrettable that cost appears to be the obstacle. The Royal British Legion Scotland hopes that a way can be found around this either now or in the near future.”
Independent councillor for Carnoustie on the committee, Brian Boyd, said he was uneasy about the scheme because of the council’s need for cutbacks. He said:
When times are hard we shouldn’t be burdening companies with extra costs, and there are also financial implications for the council through the time of officials. I just feel we’ve got more to worry about and I don’t think we should go ahead with this.”
2013 Centenary events
The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) set up its first air station at Montrose on 26 February, 1913, and this was commemorated in 2013.
A special exhibition was opened to mark the start of celebrations commemorating the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Britain’s first operational military airfield at the air station, and its place as one of the main training centre for Britain’s pilots during both World War I and World War II, as well as one of the main operational stations during those conflicts.
On 23 February, 2013, Montrose’s Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines opened to the public in a ceremony led by by Councillor Helen Oswald, Provost of Angus, who was accompanied by RAF airmen from 2 Squadron – the first squadron to be based at Montrose.
Dr Dan Paton, curator of Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre, said the exhibition would include several of the fascinating artefacts from the station’s proud history.
He explained: "The exhibition also features several items that have been loaned to us especially for the occasion, such as Winkie the Pigeon, who is normally a resident at Dundee’s McManus Art Gallery and Museum. During the Second World War, caged pigeons would often be carried in planes so they could fetch help if anything went wrong. Winkie was in a bomber flying from Leuchars when it was hit by enemy fire and went down in the North Sea. On release from her cage, Winkie flew to Broughty Ferry, where she raised the alarm and the crew were saved. In recognition of her bravery, Winkie was awarded the Dicken Medal and, after she died, her body was preserved so future generations would remember her."
- Montrose military airfield to celebrate 100 years
The exhibition also featured a diorama providing a miniature 3D aerial view of Montrose Air Station as it was in 1940, and the cross from a grave in France of a British pilot who trained at Montrose and was killed in action in 1917.
During July 2013, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, visited the station to unveil a commemorative plaque to honour those who served at the station with the Royal Flying Corps and later the Royal Air Force. The ceremony was also marked by a flypast of old and new aircraft, while many veterans who helped fly and maintain the station's aircraft also made their first return visit after many years.
The station's recently added exhibit was the star of the day - a full-scale replica Supermarine Spitfire called Red Lichtie, which had been purchased using £5,000 raised locally, together with a grant from Angus Council.
Red Lichtie Spitfire
1 ⇑ The Courier - Montrose Air Station lands £48,000 lotto cash Retrieved September 22, 2010.
2 ⇑ The Courier - Display highlights Montrose's role in Battle of Britain Retrieved September 22, 2010.
3 ⇑ No way Spitfire Way says Angus Council - Community - Montrose Review Retrieved August 18, 2013.
4 ⇑ Spitfire street name shot down in flames by “potty” council bosses | Deadline News Retrieved August 18, 2013.
5 ⇑ Spitfire street name shot down in flames by “potty” council bosses | Deadline News Retrieved August 18, 2013.
6 ⇑ Montrose military airfield to celebrate 100 years - Heritage - Scotsman.com Retrieved March 16, 2013.
7 ⇑ Earl of Wessex meets veterans as Montrose Air Station celebrates 100 years | Dundee & Tayside | News | STV Retrieved September 29, 2013.
Related Canmore/RCAHMS and ScotlandsPlaces (SP) entries:-
- Official web site of Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre
- Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre Dead link after 2009
- norwichpaul RAF Montrose
- Montrose air station, the UK's first airbase, marks centenary Retrieved March 16, 2013.
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