28 Nov

An Air Crash and the Picture House.

Allanna Brough, Archive

Last week I was working on research for two different Blog articles but I was waiting to hear back from a couple of people via email regarding some finer details before publishing. I am not the most patient of people and I was in a kind of limbo waiting for the emails. I was swithering and dithering, should I just go ahead and write the articles with what I had or should I wait? Then I received an email asking for some help regarding a Plane crash which had a connection to the Picture House…

A visit to the Library, a day spent trawling through microfilm of archived Campbeltown Couriers and I had the story…and my next Blog:

In January 1938, an aeroplane flying from Renfrew to Campbeltown to deliver film reels to the Picture House crashed.

The aircraft was a Spartan Cruiser III, which was operated by Northern and Scottish Airways. It regularly flew the Glasgow – Campbeltown – Islay route.

That particular weekend, the west coast had been battered by gale force winds. On Friday 14th, the aircraft left Renfrew at 4.30 pm to deliver the cinema reels to the Picture House for that evening’s showing. On board were Captain McGeevor the Pilot, and Officer Hughs the Wireless Operator. Luckily there were no passengers aboard the flight.

At 5.13 pm news was received in Campbeltown by James McGeachy, superintendant of Campbeltown Airport, that the Pilot had been forced to turn back when over Pladda, an island off the south coast of Arran. The plane failed to return to Renfrew Airport.

A widespread search over the Clyde, the Ayrshire and Renfrew coast was undertaken by the Troon and Girvan Lifeboats. Flares were lit at the landing strip at Prestwick R.A.F Training School and Police Forces from Ayrshire and Renfrewshire patrolled the coastal roads.

Unfortunately, due to a malfunctioning altimeter, the Pilot believed he had gained enough height to clear the North Ayrshire hills before beginning his descent into the Airport. The wireless equipment had also failed which meant the Pilot was unable to radio for help or send a distress call.

A few minutes after six o’ clock, both the Pilot and the Wireless Operator had an amazing escape when the Pilot made a forced landing, the plane crashing in the in the darkness in the hills behind Largs. Both men were thrown clear of the wreckage, uninjured!

Being completely lost in the darkness, the two men detached the compass from the plane and used it to guide themselves down the hillside, heading in a westerly direction which would eventually bring them to the shore side.

After wandering in the dark and rain for two hours, the two men arrived exhausted at the Hills Hotel. The manager, Mrs Ramsay supplied the men with dry clothes and food.

After their dramatic escape, Captain McGeevor reported that he had turned back because of the bad weather and made a forced landing near Largs after the wireless equipment had broken down and the under – carriage had been torn off. He and the wireless operator were unhurt but the plane was damaged.

An official at the aerodrome said, “We almost collapsed when Captain McGeevor came on the phone. We could scarcely believe our ears when we heard him speaking.”

Meanwhile back in Campbeltown, apart from a few broken roof slates and local flooding, the town escaped the worst of the weekend gales.

On a final note: As a result of the crash, the Picture House was closed on the Friday night – only the second time in its history. Only once before during the coal strike in 1926 has a film failed to turn up in time for a showing.

And the film that never made it to Campbeltown? It was an American gangster movie, “Bullets or Ballots” starring Humphrey Bogart and Edward G Robinson.

(What remains of the fuselage is on display at the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune.)

Picture credit: Campbeltown Courier 8th January 1938.

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