Pilot’s death commemorated

Paying respects: Pictured at the wreath-laying are trust chairman Alan Doe, member Bob Sutherland, Dan Paton, Georgina MacDonald and piper Thomas Roberts.
Paying respects: Pictured at the wreath-laying are trust chairman Alan Doe, member Bob Sutherland, Dan Paton, Georgina MacDonald and piper Thomas Roberts.

A simple ceremony at Sleepyhillock Cemetery on Monday commemorated Montrose air station’s first casualty, a century after his death.

The date was 100 years to the day since Lieutenant Desmond Arthur’s biplane broke up over Lunan Bay, just three weeks after he joined the Royal Flying Corps unit which was then based at Dysart.

Organised by members of the air station heritage trust, the wreath-laying ceremony was carried out at the behest of Lt Arthur’s family.

An official investigation into the crash blamed pilot error for the incident, after which ‘supernatural’ happenings were reported at the air station giving rise to stories of ‘the Montrose ghost’ that claimed Lt Arthur’s spirit was restless after being blamed wrongly for the crash.

Dr Dan Paton, heritage centre curator, said there is much more to the aviator than just the well-known ghost stories and recent research has shed light on aspects of his life that were previously unknown.

When Lt Arthur’s body was recovered, a miniature portrait of a young girl was discovered in his pocket who was named as Winsome Ropner, the pilot’s sweetheart to whom he left the bulk of his estate. Although Winsome, 14 at the time of his death, later married another pilot, she never forgot her love and her grandson Paul Willcox as well as Desmond Arthur’s great nephew, Nick Arthur, gave their blessing to Monday’s wreath-laying.

Dr Paton said: “For a long time we have thought of Lt Desmond Arthur as an unquiet spirit but today it is time to lay the story of the Montrose Air Station ghost to rest.

“We can see him in a very different light since contacting his relatives. He was a brave and excellent pilot by the standards of the time and a brave man who knew the risks of flying these aircraft

“Let’s remember him as he would have liked to be remembered - as a pioneering aviator.”

Lt Arthur was given a military funeral, the route of which was lined with Montrosians who turned out to pay their respects.