Campbeltown learns about the ‘Air Ace of Argyll’

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Words and photographs Hannah O’Hanlon

A collection of artefacts belonging to an Argyll airship captain and First World War submarine hunter has landed in Kintyre.

The ‘Air Ace of Argyll – Airships in the Great War and the Story of Major J G Struthers’ exhibition in Campbeltown Library features a trove of items belonging to the late Major Jim Struthers, formerly of Ardmaddy Estate, near Oban.

The items, including a dummy shell, gas goggles, badges and medals, a uniform and original airship banners and propellers, were collated, over the course of a year, by Eleanor McKay, bibliographic and local studies librarian at Live Argyll, after a conversation with Major Struthers’ son Charles.

‘He said he had ‘one or two things’ belonging to his late father,’ Eleanor explained. ‘It turned out to be eight boxes full of artefacts that we’re still going through now.

‘It’s one of the best collections from the First World War that we have seen.’

There are parts of shot-down airships, a parachute, fragments of a radiator from a zeppelin and much more.

Accompanying the artefacts, are photographs, many taken by Major Struthers himself, documenting his personal life and military career, as well as the history of airships.

Major Struthers, who was mentioned in dispatches, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, with two bars later added, for his missions with the Royal Naval Air Service, which amalgamated with the British Army’s Royal Flying Core to become the Royal Air Force in 1918.

Major Struthers was recognised for flying more hours than any other airship pilot during the war.

Aged 52 by the time the Second World War broke out, Major Struthers was too old to serve but he was in the Royal Observer Corps, his patch stretching from Sutherland to Machrihanish.

‘It’s local to Oban but it’s an Argyll story,’ said Eleanor. ‘Major Struthers was actually based in Cornwall during the war.’

Diana Manning, from Drumlemble but originally from Cornwall, attended the exhibition’s Campbeltown opening to find out more about the Cornish history, and found it ‘fascinating’.

During her opening speech, Eleanor said: ‘I think this is an area of World War One that people don’t really think about.

‘They think about later aircraft, especially in World War Two, but I don’t think they know the role they had in World War One.’

Councillor Donald Kelly, who attended the opening, said he thought it was essential to engage with local school children: ‘It’s important that youngsters today know what went on in the past – especially involving someone from Argyll.’

The exhibition, which was launched in Oban in July, will be in Campbeltown until September 29, before moving on to Helensburgh and Dunoon.

Councillor John Armour, Campbeltown’s library supervisor Christine McPhee, Eleanor McKay and Councillor Donald Kelly at the exhibition’s opening. 50_c36airships01

A propeller from a C9 airship showing dates of Major Struthers’ missions. 50_c36airships02

‘Notes on Aids to Submarine Hunting’, a report by Major Struthers, accompanied by letters praising its importance and lamenting on his lack of recognition. 50_c36airships03

A small selection of the artifacts belonging to Major Struthers’ son Charles. 50_c36airships04

Major Struthers’ medals, including the Distinguished Service Cross with two bars. 50_c36airships05