The Montrose Ghost

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The Irish Apparition.

On 27th May 1913 Irishman Desmond Arthur was killed when his plane was flying over Montrose in Scotland. Three years later, his spirit returned to the scene to haunt it. The ghost disappeared in January 1917 and was never seen again. But why?

First, let’s look at the fatal accident. Arthur was an experience flier and on his last flight he had taken his BE2 biplane to a height of 2,500 feet. People on the ground watched in horror as the wing of the plane broke, casting the aircraft into a violent spin.

As they watched, they saw a dark shape being thrown from the aircraft – parachutes weren’t worn in 1913 – and realised that they were watching the airman’s fatal fall.

The Montrose Ghost

Montrose Air Station Broomfield 1914” by Crown – Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre Archive, Scotland. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The investigation

Desmond Arthur has been a member of the Royal Flying Corps (the forerunner of the RAF) and had been based at Montrose. The investigation into the accident found that the wing of the biplane had broken because at some time, it had been badly repaired. In secret.

There was no record of any repair having been made to the plane so it was thought that some workman had damaged the plane accidentally and fearing punishment, had hastened to effect a botched and highly inefficient repair. It was deemed that Desmond Arthur had been murdered by whoever had performed that hasty and inadequate repair job.

The First World War

The year after Arthur’s death saw the outbreak of the Great War. Arthur’s colleagues from the Montrose air base were now deployed overseas and the premises were used for flying training. But it wasn’t until one evening in the autumn of 1916 that the ghost of the airman made his first appearance.

More often than not, the ghost was seen either approaching the officers’mess or sitting quietly reading. At first, the officers who saw the spirit were reluctant to mention it to anyone but the apparition was seen so often that word soon spread about the ghostly airman.

Some people who heard the story dismissed it was being the over-excited imaginations of war-weary fliers. Others just relished recounting a chilling ghost story. But one man, C.G. Grey, took the stories seriously and decided to investigate. Who was this spirit?

No. 2 Squadron

The first thing that Grey noticed was that the spirit always appeared in the No. 2 Squadron’s officer’s mess. At the beginning of the war a new building had been erected for the trainee pilots – but the ghost never appeared there. So ghost-busting Mr Grey decided that the spirit must have been one of the officers in the squadron prior to the war.  Descriptions and other information led Grey to believe that the ghost was that of Desmond Arthur.

Why did the ghost appear three years later?

Arthur had died in 1913. The ghost began to appear at Montrose in 1916. Why the gap? In 1916 another inquiry into the death of the flier discounted the previous conclusion that the plane had been hastily repaired and concluded that the blame for the crash lay with Arthur himself.

Desmond Arthur’s spirit needed to clear his name so turned up at the Montrose officers’ mess where his friends were. Many of them had seen the fatal accident and knew that the plane was faulty. Maybe the spirit was trying to urge them to make sure that the real truth was known and that Arthur had not caused his own death.
And this they did. Another investigation took place and it agreed with the initial conclusion – that the aircraft had been faulty due to a hasty repair and that Arthur was in no way to blame. The report was made public at the end of December 1916

A few days later the ghost was seen at Montrose and has never been seen since.


Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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