Tayside and Central Scotland

Montrose air station, the UK's first airbase, marks centenary

Montrose Air Museum
Image caption An exhibition is celebrating Montrose Air Station's 100th anniversary, the UK's first military airbase

An Angus airfield is marking 100 years after becoming the first military airbase to be established in the United Kingdom.

In 1913, No.2 Squadron Royal Flying Corps established the air station at Montrose to protect the Royal Navy.

The site was chosen on the orders of Winston Churchill, who feared a German attack across the North Sea.

The centenary is being marked by a special exhibition at Montrose Air Museum.

Montrose airbase, which now houses the museum, tells the story of how the Angus town became a part of military history.

Defensive past

Alan Doe, chairman of the Montrose Air Museum, said: "In 1913, Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty, with a major responsibility for the safety of the fleet and he saw that the Germans could come across the North Sea without warning, as there was no radar in those days.

"So, he pointed at the map and saw a place more or less halfway between those two areas and said we will have an operational airbase here.

"And No.2 Squadron, the Royal Flying Corps was tasked with establishing Montrose as a base."

At the beginning of World War 1, the squadron moved to France and were the first to land there.

The aerodrome fell into a period of inactivity until the Royal Naval Air Service and then the Royal Flying Corps took up residence again in May 1915.

It became a major training airfield, with pilots who fought in both world wars honing their skills at the aerodrome next to the Angus town.

Learning base

David Oswald was an RAF wireless operator at the airbase at the start of World War 2 and he said he learned a lot from his time there.

"You can imagine a young 17-year-old wandering about here with aeroplanes all over the place," he said.

"People, who I would call 'sweats', I was learning from them most of the time, it's a very happy place for me to think back on."

After the war, the airfield became home to 63 Maintenance Unit, but as there were no tarmac runways, aircraft brought in for repair were moved out by road.

Image caption No.2 Squadron, the Royal Flying Corps, established the base at Montrose in 1913

As a result, the airfield was permanently closed on 4 June 1952.

The centenary exhibition features relevant displays from other museums and visitor attractions as well as displays from Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre's extensive collections.

Friendly town

Mr Doe said: "These have been built up over the years by the dedicated team of volunteers who have transformed the decommissioned base into a highly popular heritage centre."

The museum's chairman said the base and town had a very good relationship.

"The town was very kind and helpful to the people," he said. "The people here never felt isolated. The town effectively embraced them, in many ways."

The affection for the base continues to this day, with the centenary exhibition being opened by the Provost of Angus, Mrs Helen Oswald.

Proud history

She said: "It is a true honour to be asked to open this exhibition.

"In Angus, we are rightly proud of the ancient history of our county, but this is an opportunity to celebrate our more recent, but equally fascinating, history.

"The pilots, aircraft and support staff of Montrose Air Station, and the debt we owe them for their sacrifices in the lead up to and during both world wars, should be remembered at all times and especially throughout 2013, the 100th anniversary of the air station."

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