IT has been on display at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum for the past 15 years and is a welcoming sight for visitors as they gaze up at the suspended Spitfire.

The MK21 Spitfire LA98 hangs above the main staircase after taking up permanent residence at the gallery from its previous home at the Glasgow Transport Museum. While the aircraft wasn't involved in the 1940 Battle of Britain defence of the skies against German forces, it featured in the film version bearing the same name.

And for RAF veteran John Forrest he has fond memories of flying that very aircraft when he was stationed at Abbotsinch Airfield, also once known as HMS Sanderling, at the end of the Second World War and now home to Glasgow Airport.

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Mr Forrest, known to friends as Jack, is now among the last of the few veterans who served in the conflict and on Tuesday April 13 he marked his milestone 100th birthday.

What should have been a day to be surrounded by friends and family, sadly covid restrictions have meant that celebrations will be on a slightly smaller scale at his care home at Inchmarlo House, Inchmarlo, Banchory, in Aberdeenshire, but he was still due to receive a birthday card from the Queen.

His war service saw him take part in many missions including cover for Allied Troops on the night before the D Day landings in 1944. It also earned him France’s highest national honour the Insignia of Chevalier De La Legion D’Honneur.

John Addie Forrest in his flying days

John Addie Forrest in his flying days

He went on to become a mechanical engineer and the avid Herald reader became one of the oldest paper boys delivering newspapers around the retirement village he moved to with his late wife Margaret.

Mr Forrest was born in Airdrie, North Lanarkshire, and educated at Hurst Grange in Stirling and Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh.

He joined the RAF at the age of 18, straight out of school in 1939 where he was sent to Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, to train how to fly. On receiving his wings he was returned to the UK in 1941 and based at Shoreham on the south east coast with 277 Squadron flying Spitfires and Walrus for several years.

His daughter Sally Forrest said: “Over the years among his many missions he was one of the very few credited with shooting down a flying bomb from the air. On June 5 1944, dad was in the sky over the Normandy beaches providing air cover for the thousands of of Allied troops below and as direct result in February 2016 he was awarded the Insignia of Chevalier De La Legion D’Honneur, France’s highest National Order by the French Government.

"After the war, he moved to Glasgow where he continued his flying career as Squadron Leader of Glasgow 602 Squadron out at what was then Abbotsinch Airfield. One of his planes, the MK21 Spitfire LA98 can be seen at Kelvingrove.”

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As the country was beginning to repair and recover from the wars years, the 1950s also saw the coronation of a young Queen Elizabeth II.

At the time of the Queen’s 1953 coronation, he was invited to take part in the fly past down The Mall and over Buckingham Palace in his Spitfire. And the royal connections continued as during a visit of the late King George VI to Edinburgh’s Palace of Holyrood House he was asked to look after the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and reportedly danced with her.

Miss Forrest added: “One day dad said he had flown at the Queen’s coronation and we were surprised and asked how. He was part of the flypast down The Mall. We have seen plenty royal balcony pictures of that day, but never one of the flypast. It would be wonderful if there was one out there someone might know about.”

As a trained mechanical engineer he joined the family business, Motherwell Bridge Engineering, where among many jobs he was Project Manager for the erection of the containment sphere of the Dounreay Nuclear Power Station. After some years he became involved in his own business opportunities with Seaward Boats and other businesses before retiring to Lochgoilhead in Argyll where he enjoyed many pursuits as a keen sailor and even managed to waterski on his 70th birthday. From his early years he was a shooter and took it up again on retirement and was a regular annual competitor at Bisley, Surrey where he won many medals.

John Forrest with his birthday card from the Queen

John Forrest with his birthday card from the Queen

Along with his late wife Margaret, he moved to Inchmarlo in 2006 where he was nominated as the paperboy to deliver the daily paper to his near neighbours up to the age of 95.

The couple had four children, Hamish, Lesli, Hazel and Sally; five grandchildren Ross, Victoria, Kirsty, Richard and Ian; five great grandchildren Jack, Ena, Seth, Struan and Harris.

Miss Forrest added: “We were gutted that the whole family couldn’t spend his special day with him. We got together at the weekend for a family Zoom party albeit without the birthday boy. Until covid, we had all planned to travel and to share celebrations for this magnificent milestone in his life. There are so few of this generation still living and his family are so proud and so grateful for all he has done.”