The untold story of a secret mission during World War Two has been told at Montrose Air Station.
Scotland and Russia came together on Friday at Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre to unveil an exhibition about top secret mission in which 24 elite Soviet pilots from the 10th Guards Air Division secretly came to Perthshire in 1943 to learn how to fly Whitworth Armstrong Albemarle bombers.
The story was uncovered by Russian historian Anna Belarusova whose grandfather, Commander Peter Kolesnikov, was one of the pilots involved in the clandestine operation.
All she had of his time in Scotland was a Christmas menu of 1943 with a thistle symbol, a fragment of a map of the British Isles and his English phrase book with a hand written inscription saying: “Good luck and may you visit Britain again under better conditions. Russia & Britain - V!”
Anna’s research led her to Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre two years ago because photographs showing the Soviet airmen came from the collection of Richard Moss at the museum.
Anna attended the launch of the exhibition, Russians in Scotland, along with a delegation from Russia, including the Russian Consul General and his deputy.
She said: “Seeing the exhibition has an amazing emotional impact. It has been a journey of many years as I wanted to get to know my grandfather whom I never met.
“I was born after he died and I started this research to get to know him as a person and it led to unfolding this most amazing saga about these incredible men and to the alliance of our two countries, who were fighting shoulder to shoulder in the most difficult and hardest time.
“I got to know him as a man and the more I was learning about him the more I felt proud. He was an incredible man, very brave and he never disappointed me during my research.”
Humbled by the experience Anna said she never anticipated what she would uncover when he looked into her family history and is thankful to Dr Dan Paton, curator, and the team of Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre for listening to her.
She said: “I literally walked in from the street two years ago on the day of 100th anniversary of Montrose Air Station and I walked up to Dan and told him the story of the Russian airmen. Dan had a word with his team and right away he said ‘We’ll do an exhibit’ and here we are two years later. I thank Dan and his amazing dream team for trusting in me, a stranger who walked in from the street.
“We did it. We have all been working very hard for two years and we knew that it is a very worthy cause in memory of these men and the great alliance of our two countries.
“They worked here in Scotland and I in Russia for two years knowing that it was a very good worthy cause. I am very grateful to them for their confidence in me, hard work, dedication and I extend my deep respect and admiration to this wonderful team.
“It became and untold chapter in the war and these airmen were amazing, incredible people and for me it is a great honour to be here and also I’m very happy that this memory will be in very good hands here in Montrose.”
The exhibition was officially opened by Lord Lieutenant of Angus, Georgiana Osborne, and the Russian Consul General, Andrey A. Pritsepov.
Mr Pritsepov said: “I think it is symbolic that we are here remembering the great victory 70 years ago. The great victory that these great men achieved with their dedication and their self sacrifice.“
Two Montrose Air Station World War Two veterans, Ness Van, who was in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), and David Oswald, who served in the RAF were presented with Russian 70th Anniversary medals.
The Russian delegation also included Alexei Timofeev, Soviet pilot and former head of Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport, and Elena Nikitina, Head of Vnukovo Air Museum, Moscow.
Mr Timofeev said: “I did not fly during the war but I had the pleasure of flying with some of the Soviet pilot afterwards and they told me their stories. What they were doing was a mission impossible - they were landing in places not made for landing and flying planes that were not made for these kinds of things.”
Dr Paton said: “We felt this story needed to be told because nobody knew about it. Here was something that was really interesting and significant but it was entirely forgotten and hushed at the time. It would have remained forgotten if Anna hadn’t started digging into her family history.
“We have to raise our profile and this is an excellent way of doing it. There has been a lot of working in doing it but it is worthwhile.
“The exhibition is a credit to us and a credit to the community and the people of Montrose should be proud that this can be done by local citizens who are not museum specialists.”
On Saturday, after attending the opening of the ‘Russian’s in Scotland’ exhibition at Montrose, the Russian delegation erected a memorial plaque at Errol in memory of the Russian airmen.
The opening of the exhibition was the start of Montrose Air Station’s Open Weekend, which was part of Museums Galleries Scotland’s 2015 Festival of Museums.