The relative of the pilot who flew the first British aircraft to land in France following the outbreak of World War One said it was “magical” to see the replica of his plane unveiled.
On August 2, 1914, a BE2 piloted by No 2 Squadron’s Lieutenant Hubert Dunsterville ‘Bay’ Harvey-Kelly left Montrose Air Station and became the first British aircraft to land in France during the war.
And on Friday a replica of his biplane was unveiled at a special ceremony at Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre (MASHC), marking the final stage of its First in France project, which commemorates No 2 Squadron, the air station’s original squadron.
Myles Harvey-Kelly, Lt Harvey-Kelly’s great nephew, who attended in the event along with his son, Declan, said he had been following the progress of the replica BE2.
He added: “It really is a very beautiful thing. I walked in the hanger and a little tingle did go down my spine. It was very magical.
“Reading back through the history, everybody said he was in high spirits, a good character and very entertaining to be around.
“There is no doubt he was a hero and faced death every day. I don’t think it ever really bothered or concerned him, he just went and did his job, like a lot of people did then.
“I think he would have been very pleased and surprised that people remembered him so well. He landed first in France not deliberately to get in the history books but because it was the kind of thing to do. It was the rebellious side of his nature - if you’re going to do something, be first and be the best at it, be second to none.”
The First in France project was devised in 2013 by MASHC curator Dr Dan Paton and comprised of four elements - the construction of a new hangar, training of members and volunteers to archive and catalogue artefacts, compiling displays and building the replica BE2.
Constructing the plane was a two-year project and it was built by Alan Doe, chairman of MASHC, and air station volunteers Brian Crozier, Julian Stevenson and Andy Lawrence, with the engine being built by Brian Thorby.
Also attending the event on Friday were RAF representatives and families of British pilots who flew from Montrose from 1914 to 1918, including Simon Burke, grandson of Major Charles Burke, No. 2 squadron’s commanding officer. He said his grandfather would have been “bowled over” by the First in France project.
He added: “He then would have gone on and said ‘I think there are a few changes needed’ because it seems he was very particular about how things should be done.”
Air Marshal Sir David Walker, MASHC honorary president, said at the event: “It was only in 1903 that the Wright brothers first flew.
“This represents exponential technical advance. The young men that flew these must have looked at them and thought them truly awesome. When you think how much this machine was going to change the nature of warfare throughout the First World War and beyond, and then think how these machines were the start of everything that has changed our lives, we’re looking at something here that is tremendously important to all our living histories.”
MASHC was open to the public for free over the weekend with events including performances of Betty Doe’s play ‘Falls The Shadow’, which is inspired by the story of Lt Desmond Arthur, who is said to be the ghost of the air station.