Pilot whose plane burst into flames at Montrose honoured 100 years later

Photograph from Linlithgowshire Gazette from May 11, 1917 which reports on the death of Bo'ness pilot who was killed during a flight training accident at RAF Montrose. His name was David Victor Foot (19) and he is finally being honoured at the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle.
Photograph from Linlithgowshire Gazette from May 11, 1917 which reports on the death of Bo'ness pilot who was killed during a flight training accident at RAF Montrose. His name was David Victor Foot (19) and he is finally being honoured at the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle.

An airman who was killed 100 years ago in Angus days before his 20th birthday has finally been honoured at the Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh.

David Victor Foot, a second lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps, died on May 4, 1917, four days before his 20th birthday, in a flying accident while he was training to be a pilot at the RFC Montrose station.

Montrose Air Station in 1917

Montrose Air Station in 1917

At 100 feet Lieutenant Foot, of No 18 Reserve Squadron, banked the plane he was flying and got into a spinning nose dive. The plane burst into flames as it hit the ground.

The Court of Inquiry recorded accident owing to “an error of judgement” on the part of the pilot and did not attribute it to the machine.

A number of newspapers of the time reported the death as ‘aviator burned to death at Montrose’ or ‘aeroplane takes fire’.

He was born in Bo’ness on May 8, 1897, and educated at Linlithgow Academy and Edinburgh Academy.

There is an extensive report in the Linlithgowshire Gazette edition on May 11, 1917. It said: “It is with deep regret that the people of Bo’ness heard last Friday of the tragic death at Montrose of second lieutenant David Victor Foot.”

The report also noted that it thought that his death proceeded the fire, noting “it is believed that in the fall the aviator’s neck was fractured”.

His name is on a number of memorials but was never listed on the Scottish National War Memorial at the castle until now.

A retired police officer has been keen to ensure that forgotten casualties of the Great War “get the recognition they deserve”.

Patrick Anderson (71), who lives in Letham, has been involved in researching military history after his own uncle Lieutenant Patrick Anderson of the Black Watch, died of his wounds in 1921 after being injured in WWI.

Patrick has submitted many casualties from WWI and WWII to the Trustees of the Scottish National War Memorial.

This year he has submitted six alone and has received the news that David Victor Foot is to be added to the roll of honour.

Patrick said: “Sadly the young pilot had a short career in the RFC. He joined on March 17, 1917 and was killed whilst flying on the morning of May 4, 1917.

“The main thing is that this casualty is now listed and he will be remembered for ever for his bravery in learning to fly with the intention of going off to fight for his country, but sadly he died whilst doing that pilot’s training.

“It’s great for the family who may not know their relative was not listed on the Roll or don’t know how to have a relative added.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Roger Binks, Keeper of the Rolls at the war memorial, said: “Lieutenant DV Foot RFC is one of several names added during 2017.

“I expect there are many more whose sacrifice is not yet recognised by SNWM in Edinburgh Castle. Pat Anderson’s submissions are comprehensively documented, allowing prompt review for addition or correction. We are grateful for his continuing efforts.”

Lieutenant Foot was flying BE2 c no 9974 at Montrose Aerodrome the casualty card records.

Montrose Air Station Hertitage Centre unveiled a replica of a BE2 piloted by No 2 Squadron’s Lieutenant Hubert Dunsterville ‘Bay’ Harvey-Kelly last year.

On August 2, 1914 Harvey-Kelly and the BE2 left Montrose Air Station and became the first British aircraft to land in France during the war.

Dr Dan Paton, curator of the heritage centre, said: “As it is a First World War accident we have no documents relating to the units that operated from Montrose.

“We have been gathering information about casualties as part of our Roll of Honour Project so I am pleased to be able to add Lieutenant Foot to this list.

“We want this to be more than a list of names and I am pleased we have got some personal and biographical details.

“The Roll of Honour will be published on our website.

“I am sorry to say that this accident is typical of many.

“An American sergeant who was at Montrose in 1918 commented, ‘There is an accident every day and a funeral every week’.

“The RFC lost more men in training and accidents than it did in combat.

“No 18 Reserve Squadron was one of the units which operated from Montrose.

“Training units were known as Reserve Squadrons.

“Our attempts to find the records have not been successful and it is likely they have not survived.”