Montrose Air Station welcomed a film crew ahead for a shoot combining fact and fiction ahead of the Angus attraction’s planned re-opening to visitors later this month.
The Broomfield base – site of Britain’s first operational military air station – was the setting for scenes around the short film, Otto, being created by Mearns filmmaker JJ Mcgechan.
His Talisman Media production tells the story of a young Second World War German pilot shot down in Scotland, and the human side of conflict.
During research for the film, however, JJ discovered the factual WWII parallels between his story and the Angus station.
“The story follows a young Luftwaffe pilot downed on Scottish farmland who has to navigate his way to safety, while being afraid and merely a young person,” he said.
“It tries to convey the seriousness of war and the impact it had on youth, regardless of what side they were on.”
Shot down at St Cyrus
Although he had previously visited the Angus attraction many times, the filmmaker only learned while working on the film script of the shooting down of a German bomber close to Montrose in the summer of 1941.
The Junkers 88 was downed by an RAF fighter at St Cyrus, with wreckage spread across the dunes of the now popular national nature reserve there.
All four crew were killed and the bodies of the Luftwaffe airmen taken to RAF Montrose just a few miles south.
They were buried in a military funeral at the town’s Sleepyhillock cemetery.
However, there were local protests about the coffins being draped with the Nazi flag.
Their bodies lay there for two decades before the German airmen were then reburied at Cannock Chase military cemetery in Staffordshire.
It holds the graves of nearly 5,000 victims of the First and Second World Wars, mainly German and Austrian nationals.
JJ added: “I never knew the story, but it fits in with the one we are trying to tell through the film.”
He approached Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre over the possibility of filming there and was given access to the attraction for a closed shoot, using the station’s 1940s living room as the setting for the farmhouse scenes.
Film festival circuit
The film is due for completion in early summer with a view to it being released on the UK and European festival circuits.
“The centre was very happy to help us and it has been an ideal place to film,” said JJ.
“You cannot help but feel the atmosphere given the fact that there were military operations here.
“Everyone who has come on board for the film is great and it is good to show that the Scottish film industry is continuing to look to produce films, even on a small scale.”
The cast features Alec Westwood, of Schemers, former Bell Baxter pupil Ronan Doyle, Dom Fraser and Aberdeenshire’s April Watson.
After more than a decade in the oil and gas industry, JJ embarked on an acting career when he was made redundant.
“After only a year I had made multiple short films, played in music videos and done a run of Shakespeare in Aberdeen,” he said.
“I realised I wanted to tell the stories, not act in someone else’s.
He moved to producing corporate and commercial videos for business as well as music videos for a local artist.
A pilot around the Scottish witch trials, called Raven Birk, is also on his list of future projects.
Heritage Centre lining up for new season take-off
MAHSC chairman Stuart Archibald said the centre was delighted to offer the period setting for filming.
“As chair here I was happy to offer the location, but as we talked through the project it became obvious I could further assist through my own business,” he said.
His Theatrical Armoury Services company supplies props including weapons and other armoury, alongside training and pyrotechnics.
“It’s an exciting project for the centre to be part of when we are looking forward to having visitors back,” he said.
“The centre will have working parties coming in this week and we have permission to re-open from the 26th so we are starting to get everything ready.
“We have exciting plans for the future and have continued to be very well supported by the public during the pandemic.”
Lockdown projects have included the laying of a small scale runway to replicate the original at the station.
A successful crowdfunder also helped secure the acquisition of a T38 Grasshopper glider, the aircraft in which many post-war RAF pilots would have had their first flight experience.
It is being restored to museum standard by current owners down south and should arrive in Montrose later this year.