The Montrose Ghost, by Harold Balfour

Harold Balfour - The Montrose Ghost

BBC Radio 4: Saturday Night Theatre

Broadcast: Saturday 12th June 1976 @ 8:30 p.m.

The play opens on July 5th 1942, but the story begins earlier one morning in the spring of 1915. After six hectic months over the other side of the German line, Desmond had been posted to the Royal Flying Corps station in Montrose, Scotland, as a flying instructor. His nerves were in a bad way and Montrose seemed an ideal spot to relax. But that was not to be when he met and fell in love with Sylvia Adam, the wife of one of his Officer Cadets, Rupert Adam. And when Rupert dies in a plane crash on his first solo flight, his ghost begins to haunt the Montrose Airfield until Desmond leaves it and Sylvia.

Twenty-seven years have passed and Desmond Little has been promoted to Air Vice Marshall and given command of No. 32 Group in Benson, Oxfordshire. When he arrived there, all memories of Montrose had faded. However, one event, one conversation, was to bring the appalling business flooding back to his memory. It was exactly two days earlier that the whole story started again, on July 3rd 1942, that is when Desmond's god-daughter tells him that she is going to be engaged to be married to Flight Lieutenant Rupert Adam....

Adapted by Martin Jenkins from a short story, 'The Montrose Ghost ', by Harold Balfour.

With John Pullen [Group Captain Desmond Little], Rosalind Shanks [Sylvia Adam], Christopher Neame [Flight Lieutenant Rupert Adam, Sylvia's son], Douglas Blackwell [Flight Sergeant Wood], Patrick Barr [Major Holt], Christopher Bidmead [Officer Cadet Rupert Adam, Sylvia's husband], Jane Knowles [Flying Officer Anne Douglas], David Graham [Group Captain Jack Roberts], David Neale [Wing Commander Buckle], and Sion Probert [Flight Lieutenant Wainwright / Air Signal Officer].

Directed by Gerry Jones.

90 minutes.


Lieutenant Desmond L. Arthur's death at Montrose gave rise to the legend of 'The Montrose Ghost'. Over the years there have been many reported sightings of ghosts at Montrose aerodrome.

Desmond Lucius Arthur was born on 31st March 1884 at O'Briens Bridge, County Clare, Ireland, and was educated at Portora Royal School, Inniskilling. He joined the 5th Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers (Special Reserve), being gazetted on 27th May 1911. He joined No 2 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps on 17th April 1913, having gained his Flying Certificate, No 233, on the 18th June 1912 flying a Bristol Monoplane at Brooklands.

On 27th May, 1913, Lt. Arthur, dressed in his officer's khaki uniform over which he wore a white Cavalry cover-all, climbed aboard BE2 No 205 for a normal practice flight from Upper Dysart, south of Montrose on the coast road (now the A92). At 7 a.m. the 70hp Renault engine of his aircraft roared into life, and he took to the air heading towards Lunan Bay. Around 30 minutes into the flight the machine was seen descending in a left hand spiral at about 2,500 feet, making a complete turn. The aircraft then banked to the right, and the top right hand wing was seen to collapse from the tip towards the fuselage.

Spectators on the ground reported they heard the engine accelerating and a puff of smoke was emitted from the exhausts. The aircraft pitched downwards throwing Lt. Arthur against his seat strap, bursting the stitching on one side. Lt Arthur fell to his death hitting the ground about 200 yards in front of Lunan Bay Station, his machine crashing about 160 yards away.

This early accident gave rise to the story of 'The Montrose Ghost' during the Great War, when an enquiry accused Lt. Arthur of 'Stunting' his machine. His spectre was seen at the Officer's Quarters, until his name was cleared when the findings of the enquiry were overturned and he was exonerated from all blame for the crash, the accident being due to a botched repair. Lt Arthur is buried locally in Sleepyhillock cemetery. (Montrose Air Station Museum).


Harold Balfour

Harold Harington Balfour, 1st Baron Balfour of Inchrye (1897 - 1988) was a pilot and trainer with the Royal Flying Corps and later a Conservative politician. As Under-Secretary of State for Air in 1944 he was instrumental in the establishment of London Heathrow Airport.


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