SMC Remembrance Service

The following was presented at the Stewart’s Melville College Remembrance Service in November 2022.

Every November, we gather here to remember our fallen- we acknowledge our freedom by reflecting on the terrible price paid for it in two world wars by people we never met. And every November, we gather at the memorial in front of Old College.

But why? It’s rather odd isn’t it- because no-one is buried there. None of our lads who fell in the First World War ever set eyes on it- it was only unveiled in 1922.

More prosaically, we imagine that some sort of exchange took place- one of our living lads swapped for a dead one under a headstone in some ‘foreign field’. We assume that we could, should we care to, go and visit that grave. But that simply doesn’t obtain- it just isn’t the case. Nearly half of our lads from both world wars are, well- nowhere. For some, their graves were destroyed in subsequent fighting; for others they were killed behind enemy lines, or they were bodily obliterated by the sheer violence of the industrial slaughter of twentieth century conflict.

Others, like Archie Todd of Stewart’s, who was sent on an anti-submarine patrol in August 1943 simply disappeared. To this day, nobody has any idea what fate befell him or his Sunderland aircraft- he just… vanished.

So, what to do with these men, who are simply- missing? How do we remember them? After the war, the name of every lost serviceman was inscribed on a memorial, it having been decided that they should each be remembered on a permanent monument. The most famous is the Menin Gate in the town of Ypres in Belgium, which the war poet Siegfied Sassoon reviled as being engraved with 54,000 ‘intolerably nameless names’. One of those names is James White of Melville College, who in 1915, saved the lives of eight men under incessant artillery fire by digging them out of a collapsed trench with his bare hands.

Sassoon hadn’t met John Hannah from Daniel Stewart’s, a veteran of the Boer War who journeyed from Canada to fight. So, to remember our missing, to appreciate their sacrifice, they must be more than just names to us. We must know them as men and we start that journey to understanding in our archives here at school, which is a like a beach on which other people’s memories are washed up. If we take the time to care, just to be bothered, we realise that our missing lads are quietly still all around us, preserved like fingerprints in paint. We in turn apprehend then that it is impossible to die if we live on in the memories of those that remember us.

It is the evening of the 31st of October 1914- Halloween. Britain is a few hours away from losing the First World War. Since the conflict began just bare weeks before, our tiny professional army has been shot to pieces, and now the Germans are attacking en masse. The situation is desperate- the enemy is five miles away from the strategic town of Ypres. If it falls, our army will be cut off from supplies and surrounded. The situation is beyond desperate.

Everything we have is being hurled at the line of higher ground between the hamlets of Messines and Wytshaete in a last-ditch defence. In Inferno Wood, directly in the path of the advancing German hordes, the kilted men of the London Scottish are lying on the wet Autumn ground because they are simply too exhausted to stand. Amongst them is 26-year-old Wattie Black, a pharmacist from Edinburgh.

He is recording his thoughts in a small pocket diary- fully expecting that this will probably be his last day on earth. He knows that if the worst comes to the worst, his scribbled thoughts and feelings are all that will survive him- all he will be remembered by. His words might outlive his death- and that gives him some small comfort. What day is it, anyway? Yes, a Saturday- was meant to be a match day, today. In another world, another life, he was a forward in the first team of the famous London Saracens- and Wattie, known as ‘the lump o’ beef’ had been instrumental in the side’s nine wins of the season. He had honed his game at Inverleith and had trained many times in the gym at Daniel Stewart’s College- the gym that is now this assembly hall. Let that sink in for a moment- Lance Corporal Wattie Black has stood where we are now. He has walked through that door there (gesture to old front doors ahead). He joined up on the first day of the war and then, after just three weeks of very basic training, was deployed to France- amongst the first thousand men of the eventual millions who will volunteer to fight.

His day has been nightmarish. Hustled south in a forced march along the hard paved roads of the Belgian countryside, some of the London Scottish now hobble on with feet wrapped in bloodied rags, having not yet been issued with army boots. Streaming north are thousands of refugees from the German advance, which are being deliberately and mercilessly shelled to delay the British. The straight Flemish roads are in gridlock- the battalion machine guns lost in the logjam of traffic. Logistical chaos means the Jocks have also been supplied with the wrong ammunition, which will jam their outdated rifles after a few shots. Without shovels, they are unable to dig trenches, and now the whole battalion, Wattie amongst them, has been ordered to lie down in a turnip field, under heavy artillery fire, and await the enemy.

In a lull, he scribbles in his diary “I write this under most peculiar circumstances. Shells are shrieking over our heads while rifle and maxim fire is continuous in front of us. It is simply hellish. It is the only word I can get for it… My head aches with the concussion of the earth… I feel every thud”.

At 9pm, the Germans attack in overwhelming force, advancing shoulder to shoulder with rifles at the trail, regimental bands cheering them on. The fire of the London Jocks tears the opening waves of the assault to pieces- bodies heaped three and four deep before their line. But one by one, the rifles begin to backfire. There is nothing for it- the order to fix bayonets is given, and as one man, the kilted Scots launch a desperate hand to hand attack on the enemy shock troops- half trained Scottish volunteers pitted against the pick of the German army. The Bavarians troops are good- but not good enough. Incredibly the London Scottish blunt the attack, save Ypres- and keep Britain in the war. Half of the Jocks are killed- but not Wattie.

He writes after the battle ‘I had to stop to help a fellow who was wounded in both legs and the back by shrapnel…I have been one of the lucky ones and have got through without a scratch, but it was an awful experience, while it lasted.” On Christmas Eve 1914, the adjutant of the London Scottish wraps the treasured diary in an official envelope, and with a dog tag, posts the small parcel to Wattie’s family in Bangholm Terrace, Edinburgh. 2-1-6-4 Lance Corporal Walter Cairns Black had died instantly the evening before, after being shot through the head by a sniper. Buried in a shallow grave behind the British lines, his resting place was soon obliterated by the churning artillery fire of later battles and his name is now listed on the Le Touret Memorial.  But some small part of him cheated death due to his diary and his letters- his voice is clear and strong and thus he still lives today when we he speaks to us over the great gulf of eternity.

The school is now the custodian of many other mute fragments of the lives of our missing lads. Recently, a faded and crumpled Melville College cap turned up on eBay, and enfolded lovingly within it, two medals from the Second World War- unmounted, unworn.

Unusually for a piece of school uniform, (!) it was named- G.M. Fairbairn. In 1941, Garry MacKenzie Fairbairn, aged 21, found himself in the Mediterranean, flying anti-shipping strikes with 82 Squadron. Just like Wattie Black and the defence of Ypres in 1914, the defence of Malta thirty years later was no less vital to the British war effort, and no less desperate. Garry must have known that he was performing one of the most dangerous jobs of the war- attacking heavily protected enemy merchant boats in broad daylight. His chance of surviving thirty such operations? Somewhere between two and six per cent. On the 27th of May 1941, his unit took off to attack an enemy convoy out at sea. One section of twin engine Blenheim bombers would come low in the hope of drawing the fire off another flight that would bomb the convoy from above- Garry drew the short straw. He would be one of the ones attacking the ships at a height no greater than the balcony there. (Points to balcony) Sweeping into attack and under heavy anti-aircraft fire, disaster struck.

Garry, his crew and aircraft were smashed out of existence, but, terribly, not by German shells. One bomber crew had mistimed their attack and Garry was killed when his aircraft was hit by a 500-pound bomb dropped from above by one of his own friends. He is remembered with his navigator and gunner on the Malta Memorial. And missing he might have stayed- unless for that chance eBay find- a young lad’s life, all that survived him, auctioned for a paltry £75. But that cap is something magically tangible- Garry wore it, left it in the changing rooms at Ferryfield on games day, doffed it to the War Memorial at the foot of the stairs in the old school in Melville Street- and after the war, his mother wrapped his two service medals in it as her memorial. Thus, Flight Lieutenant Garry Fairbairn has come back home to us- closer now, suddenly less absent.

There are many of our boys who are now on memorials to the missing owing to grimly similar circumstances. In 1916, Stewartonian William Brown was asked to join a new, secret branch of the services that was simply and mysteriously known only as ‘Heavy Section’. He was warned the job would be incredibly dangerous- and it was- so much so, that the Tank Corps (as Heavy Section was later renamed) was known as ‘The Suicide Club’ and the early tanks dubbed ‘Tommy cookers’. After taking part in the first tank attack in history in the Battle of Flers-Courcellette in 1916, his machine sustained a direct hit from artillery fire on the 22nd  of November the year after. He and his crew are honoured on the Cambrai Memorial. In a second calamitous war three decades later, Charles Graham, who would have stood outside at our memorial on Armistice Day as you will on Friday, who would have read William Brown’s name on the bronze panels there, was himself killed as an anti-tank gunner fighting German armour a few weeks after D-Day. He and the men of his gun detachment are remembered on the Bayeux Memorial.

Unlike the battlefield cemeteries that often contain men from one regiment, killed in one fight on one day, memorials to the missing often bring together soldiers and sailors who were lost in vastly different times and places. But in some cases, they reunite classmates and old friends. On the Thiepval Memorial in France, we see the name of George Russell of the Royal Scots, killed on the 1st of July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

George was detailed to lead a party of men in the assault on the German positions in the village of Contalmaison. It was his first day in battle. That morning, 60,000 of our soldiers were killed or wounded, many being shot down in sight of their own trenches. What happened to 2nd Lieutenant Russell is unknown, as is the location of his grave- none of his platoon survived. However, we do know that George reached his objective, two miles behind enemy lines, becoming the British officer who advanced the furthest into the German positions that day, an astonishing achievement. Twenty of our FPs are on the Thiepval Memorial, many in the 16th Royal Scots like George Russell. One of his comrades was John Jolly, a librarian from Dalkeith Road, who was shot in the head clearing an enemy trench with hand grenades.

Of course, John has never really left us. He was awarded the Daniel Stewart’s Dux Prize in 1911- his name is up there on the honour boards. You’ve trooped out of that door every Monday for years and have never probably never, ever read his name. There are twenty-one of our former pupils on the Helles Memorial in Turkey, thirteen of them killed on the same day, 28th June, all of them in the Queen’s Edinburgh Rifles.

The names on the memorial, when read alphabetically, could be one of our school class registers, one of our team sheets. But far from being annihilated and scattered to the winds, on these memorials to the missing our boys are not lost, but found- back together, back amongst friends.

As much as memorials collect friends, they reunite family. The Reverend and Mrs Pryde laid a terrible price on the altar of freedom in the Second World War, losing all three of their Stewartonian sons, George, David and William, in RAF service.

Incredibly, David and George are remembered in the same place, on the Runnymede Memorial, along with eighteen other men from Stewart’s and Melville. David skippered a ‘barn door’ as the lumbering Whitley bomber was nicknamed. Twice in once week he managed to save the lives of his crew by nursing a damaged and burning aircraft back to base on one engine, making perfect forced landings both times. Awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, he modestly recalled his exploits for an enthralled radio audience on the BBC World Service, giving hope and courage to both our service personnel and civilians trapped under Nazi occupation. George, who also won a Distinguished Flying Cross, was lost over the Mediterranean in a Blenheim bomber. Like so many men on the Runnymede Memorial, what happened to him on 21st June 1940 is unknown- it is presumed a mechanical failure caused him to crash into the sea.

So, by knowing the story behind the names, we remember the men, and we thank them for their sacrifice. But how will we be remembered? The men on our memorial lived in a world of papers, records- actual things. Their lives were handwritten- typed onto physical documents. Their photographs were printed and pasted into durable albums. Their medals were bronze and silver- and framed. What do we leave behind? None of our disposable plastic possessions are made to last. Fashion changes- much of what we have we thoughtlessly throw away when we are bored of it. We live in an internet age- if we drop our ‘phone, if we break our laptop, if our digital ‘cloud’ bursts- so disappears our past, our story, all our photos- in sum, much of what makes us, us.

Ultimately, the most important things to survive us aren’t things at all. Our good deeds, the actions we take knowing that they will positively influence others, our contributions to the community and the greater whole- these are paramount. It is said that they best way to remember someone is to emulate in your life the thing you admired most in the person who has gone- you can all, in your own way, emulate their selflessness and cheerfulness in the face of your own struggles. Whatever you do, live a life worthy of the sacrifice of our former pupils, for their example is the backbone, the very fibre of the school, its soul. And remember most of all- the lads on our memorials are not missing- they are here. Treasure them.

Emily Lewis (2009), Owner, Ingrained Moments Woodcraft

What were your favourite subjects when you were at school? 
I expressed my creative side through different means during my ESMS days and was very involved in the musical life of the school. I also particularly enjoyed product design as it presented the opportunity to exercise my imagination in sometimes more unconventional ways.

When you left school, did you have a career path in mind? 
Not particularly. I decided to study geography at Edinburgh University but I must admit to not really having an ultimate goal in mind. The career path that I took prior to establishing Ingrained Moments was eclectic to say the least, but I have always loved being creative and having a connection with the natural world in some capacity.

How did you develop your business idea for Ingrained Moments?
I have enjoyed woodworking as a hobby since my teenage years but I didn’t even comprehend that there may be potential for this to grow into a business. About five years ago I was lucky enough to acquire a scroll saw which enables the cutting of very intricate shapes and I really loved the opportunity this presented for becoming more intricate and artistic in my creations. From this point, my unusual style of artwork gradually emerged and the incredibly positive response that it began to receive when I showed what I was doing to others was just the push I needed to start Ingrained Moments. 

Tell us about your job and what it involves day-to-day? 
My workshop time is split between working on customer commissions and creating my own original artwork to sell on my website shop. The process involved in creating each piece has numerous steps and depending on the complexity, each one can take many days to create. Outside of the workshop I do a lot of research and design work on my computer to ensure that I achieve the precision needed for the initial cutting stages. I also love any opportunity to visit my wood supplier in Fife as there is always an incredibly tempting array of stunning locally and sustainably sourced wood species to browse!

All that being said, ‘typical’ working days are currently a thing of the past for me as a lot of my time is taken up with looking after our toddler (who has yet to be trained up in the art of woodwork!).

We have heard you have an exhibition of your work coming up, can you tell us more?
Yes! I am very excited to currently have an exhibition that is running at the Art & Craft Collective, Edinburgh until 5 November. ‘Wild Wood: a sculptural exploration of the wildlife and trees of Scotland’ consists of ten one-off wildlife artworks which have of course all been handcrafted entirely from Scottish sustainably sourced wood species. I am very proud of this collection and hope that it gives plenty of people the opportunity to see in person the depth and tactility that wood as a medium allows.  You can find out more about the exhibition on the Art & Craft Collective website here: https://www.artcraftcollective.co.uk/product/wild-wood-a-sculptural-exploration-of-the-wildlife-and-trees-of-scotland/.

Do you have any advice for pupils at ESMS who might wish to follow a similar career path and launch their own creative business? 
Try to develop a style that is unique to you. It is very easy to get entirely caught up in the creative side of your work (spoken from experience!) but take every opportunity to also learn about the promotional side of running this sort of business.

What’s your fondest memory from your schooldays? 
Singing in Mrs Mitchell’s madrigal group during my final few years of school was always pretty special!

Interview with Mr Cameron Wyllie, author and former teacher at DSMC and retired Principal of George Heriot’s School

When did you start teaching and what subject did you teach?
I started teaching in 1980 at DSMC teaching English. I was a teaching student at DSMC in the English department and I was extremely lucky to be offered a job afterwards. The English department was wonderful. Tom Fraser, who recently died, was my Head of Department.  I ended my career as Housemaster of Beauly house when I left DSMC.  John Rintoul and Jock Richardson were part of the department too and I have very fond memories of working together. 

Tell us one of your favourite memories of the school
Like many pupils, one of my favourite memories is the annual trip to Carbisdale, despite not particularly enjoying outdoor education.  The weeks away with the third year were wonderful and the memories are lovely to re-visit.

You went on to teach at Heriot’s and became Principal, what were the biggest challenges of taking on such a role?
I worked in two schools, Stewart’s Melville College for 11 years and Heriot’s for 27 years.  The balance is that I taught English at Heriot’s for 11 years before getting promoted into management after becoming head of the Senior School at Heriot’s.  I loved being in the classroom and I’ve always been very pupil-centric so it was all about the young people.  People should go into teaching if they both really like supporting young people and they really like their subject.  I’ve made hundreds of friends out of that process.  I’m still in touch with pupils I taught 40 years ago.  For example, today is the birthday of a very favourite former pupil who I think is turning 53 today.  We have stayed in contact since they left school.

You retired in 2017, what have you been doing with your retirement?
I wrote a book!  I blog about a wide range of subjects, including my three-weekly articles from the Scotsman and all sorts of other subjects such as travel, the bin strike and I share a lot of personal anecdotes.  My blog can be found at  www.ahouseinjoppa.wordpress.com.  The blog is approaching it’s 100,000th visit!

You mentioned a book, tell us about it.  What was your inspiration, what’s the focus and do you feature any anecdotes about your time at Stewart’s Melville College?
It was a book about my career in teaching.  It’s not intended as a teaching manual or a focus on education.  The purpose is to make people laugh and for me to reflect on my career. I deal with a lot that’s quite difficult about teaching.  I was very lucky to have a significant publisher in Scotland (Birlinn) who was interested in publishing the book and their support has been fantastic.  The book is called ‘Is there a Pigeon in the Room? My Life in Schools’ and I think it’s quite widely available.  I have tried to make it an easy, light book to read. And yes, there are plenty of stories of my time at Stewart’s Melville College!

Mark Leckie (2016), Insect Farming Technician at Better Origin

What were your favourite subjects when you were at school? 
My favourite subjects were definitely the sciences, specifically Biology and Chemistry but I also really enjoyed PE and would look forward to the days we had that and rugby training too. 

When you left school, did you have a career path in mind? 
I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do, aside from not wanting to be stuck working in an office and wanting to make a positive impact on the world. I know lots of people at that age feel that way and end up working in an office and enjoy it, but I still feel like that now. 

Did you find it tough getting your first role after graduating or was the pathway quite straightforward? 
I did find it tough, probably in part because I didn’t have a set career path in mind and partly due to the nature of graduating in a pandemic economy with not as many job roles in the fields I would be interested in.  

What helped to guide you to your role today?  
An interest in insects from a young age, care for the environment and some great teachers who nurtured my interest in biology through School – Mrs Lim, Mr Millar and Dr Turnbull.  

What inspired you to pursue a career in sustainability? 
I have always been fascinated by the natural world. From a young age I loved nature documentaries and learning about different species and habitats, and I grew up in a time when the threats to global biodiversity have always been known. So that coupled with wanting to make a positive impact made me jump at the opportunity to start a career in sustainability. 

Can you tell us about Better Origin and what their aims are? 
Better Origin are a biotechnology company based in Cambridge that produce decentralised insect mini farms. The farms take food waste and use it to feed black soldier fly larvae which in turn are fed to laying hens. This helps us achieve our aims of fixing a broken part of the food chain. The planet wastes 1/3 of all the food it produces. We fix this by diverting waste back into the food chain and using the insects grown on this to replace soy as the high protein component of the hen’s diet. This also reduces use of soy which often comes from deforested land in South America. Finally, the laying hens benefit from feed that is closer to their natural history – they have better feather coverage, lay fewer eggs on the floor and have lower mortality.  

What is your role at Better Origin and what does it involve day-to-day? 
I am an Insect Farming Technician and team leader for one our R & D squads, focused on optimising the rearing and breeding processes at our production site. Day-to-day I am mainly designing and running experiments and conducting data analysis.  

What do you like most about your job? 
I like that each day is different because I am working on different things. I enjoy collaborating with my colleagues for ideas and the sense that we are all working for a clear common goal.  

What has been the most challenging part of your career so far? 
I have only been working here 7 months, but the most challenging part was making the decision to move across the country after a few interviews with a company. 

Do you have any advice for pupils at ESMS who might wish to follow a similar career path? 
If you can’t get into your desired field immediately keep looking, even if you have to start something else in the interim. 

Where do you see yourself in five years? 
I am really enjoying my work at Better Origin and would like to continue to progress and develop here. In the future I would love to work with some rewilding projects, focusing on habitat restoration or species introduction.  

What’s your fondest memory from your schooldays? 
I really enjoyed the outdoor pursuits we were able to do, the trip to Carbisdale and Duke of Edinburgh expeditions particularly come to mind. 

About Alasdair Seale, Chair of Governing Council, ESMS

Alasdair started his education as a pupil at Daniel Stewart’s College in 1963 with Miss Burt as his teacher from P1-P3.  He was at School when it merged with Melville College in 1973, enjoying the RAF Section of the Combined Cadet Force, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and chairing the Charities Committee in sixth year. He loved the extra-curricular activities but nonetheless left School with five Highers.  Later, when he became an Assistant on the Master’s Court at the Merchant Company of Edinburgh he was appointed a Governor for a three year term.  He was invited to return in 2017 as Governor by Mike Sims as he was always ready ‘to ask the tough questions’ and his business background enabled him to bring a different perspective to the discussions. 

At the time when Alasdair left School, everyone joined the FP Club and the subscriptions were minimal.  In the first 20 years after school he wasn’t particularly active in the Club as he focused on his career and family, however his business has an office in Aberdeen and he started to attend the FP Club Dinner there as a good way to network and catch up with old friends.  It gave an extra dimension to his visits to the city outwith the Dinner as he established a network of contacts to meet in the evenings after work.   He then started to attend the Glasgow Dinner and the Parent Club Dinner in Edinburgh.  Alasdair says that the Branch Clubs are all very different from each other.  Glasgow is about the School and the staff at the time the FPs were there and all the pranks they were involved in.  The Parent Club dinner tends to be more formal. The Aberdeen Dinner strikes a balance – there are more guests than FPs and School memories are therefore less relevant. The main speaker was often David Gray but rather than talk about ESMS specifically, he used to select a topic in the education sphere. On one occasion he spoke about matching similar sized pupils to make rugby safer, rather than similar ages and shortly afterwards this became the norm.  

At the age of 16 Alasdair started his company, Trinity Factors, with the assistance of his parents and before he left school.  He began to manage rental flats, garages and blocks of flats with every expectation that his career would be in the property sector.  Alasdair studied at Napier College as he felt the BA course suited him; as did their flexibility with attendance providing he passed the examinations, as he was growing the business whilst studying.   In his year at Napier, he learnt about the most important aspects of running a business: contract law and Scots law in general, accounting, marketing, economics and general business practice. However, at the end of his first year, Napier tightened up on attendance requirements so, after much thought, he cease his studies to concentrate on the business.  Alasdair’s business progressed over the years and when he was around 24, it was able to support him in married life.  The business has grown significantly and now manages over 10,000 properties employing over 65 staff.  In recent years Alasdair has increasingly focused strategy and policy; leaving his capable team to deal with the day-to-day aspects.

Outwith work, Alasdair became a Special Constable and a Squadron Commander in the Air Training Corps . Apart from the Royal Company of Merchants, and his involvement with ESMS, Alasdair is a member of the Rotary Club of Braids.  Rotary aims to make things better, not just locally but around the world. Through Rotary he volunteers in Tanzania, on a small island called Ukerewe in Lake Victoria which is always a challenging yet hugely satisfying experience. Rotary undertakes a variety of projects there which have a significant impact on the quality of life for the local population, with lots of infrastructure work being undertaking, including renovation of hospital wards and repairs and improvements to the water supply to ensure that all schools have piped water.  There is an issue with safe water on the island as there is little rainfall so most water is taken out of the lake which sadly contains Bilharzia flukes. Life expectancy on the island is very low at 45-50, partially due to the water quality.

Alasdair sees the role of the Governing Council as supporting the Senior Leadership Team of the Schools in every aspect of school life.  He believes the Schools provide an unrivalled quality of education, as evidenced again in the recent examination results, and that they produce young people who are not only educated but well-rounded, kind and who have a wide range of interests. He says “The size of the school gives it a breadth of resources for staff to provide so many extra curricular activities.  The hard work and attitude of the staff is fantastic and this shows in the pupils who often go on to higher education; arriving on the world stage in politics, medicine , engineering and a wide range of other professions hoping to make a difference.”

“It is an interesting time to be taking over the Chair of the Council as we welcome the dynamic new Principal of ESMS, the excellent interim Head of Stewart’s Melville College and of course we already have the very capable Kirsty Nicholson as Head of The Mary Erskine School.  My predecessor as Chair of the Governing Council had to support the schools through lots of change, including staffing at leadership levels and all the logistical issues created by the pandemic, so this will be a time to stabilise and focus on the future.  Our new Principal is settling into his role and will be focusing on developing excellence at the Schools which I will wholeheartedly support, with an ever-stronger Governing Council providing breadth of experience. We will support the Senior Leadership Team and staff to help them in the challenging role of delivering an ever-improving educational experience.  I would especially like to see  an increase in the size of funding that is Access to Excellence.  It is an outstanding way of assisting children who would not otherwise benefit from the quality of our education.”.

Interview with Anthony Simpson, Principal, ESMS

Over the summer break, we caught up with Anthony Simpson, new Principal of ESMS, and asked him to tell us more about his career before moving to ESMS and his plans for the future.

Tell us a little about your career before you moved to ESMS, what subject did you teach before you moved into management and how did you find it moving from private to state then back to private sector education.

I started my career teaching maths at Giggleswick, a boarding school in North Yorkshire.  I was there for nine years in a variety of roles, from Mathematic teacher to Assistant Director of studies, living in the boarding house and ending my tenure there as Head of Mathematics.  I felt I was a strong teacher and I wanted to see if this was true in different environments, so I moved to become an Assistant Principal in an inner-city school in Liverpool; in one of the most deprived areas in the UK.  I was living there during the week and travelling home at weekends, so whilst I had success with my role, after some time I wanted to spend more time with my family.  I applied to a school in Keighley that was about to go into special measures for the role of Vice Principal.  The aim was to turn the school around and make a big impact, which my management team and I managed to achieve.  After this challenge I then wanted to focus more on the pastoral side of school leadership, so I moved back to the boarding school at Giggleswick as the Senior Deputy Head.

Tell us about your life outside of school. I’ve heard you’re a triathlete, how do you find time for the training required and how often do you get to compete in tournaments?

Prior to moving to Edinburgh, I used to compete in triathlons in various competitions in North Yorkshire, the Lakes and Scotland.  I find if I train I work more effectively, so I have to make time for some form of exercise.  I’m very goal orientated so I need something to work towards.  I’ve only raced once this year but I do have the European Championships in Bilbao in a couple of months.  I also do a lot of walking with my black Labrador over the hills in Edinburgh and on the beach.

What do you see as the main area of development for ESMS as a whole in the coming years?  What is your vision for the future of the schools?

The vision will be developed with the Senior Leadership Team, incorporating the views of our staff and School community.  We need to stick close to the values, but we also need to invest time developing our educational offer so that we set ourselves apart from other schools in Edinburgh.  The most immediate challenge is steadying the ship after Covid and steering the School safely through the upcoming political and economic climate.

You spent a year as Head of Stewart’s Melville College before taking the step up to Principal.  What did you learn during that year that has helped to shape your vision?

I learned an awful lot about the Scottish education system, the staff and how much the school means to them personally and I got to know the children very well, all of which I have really enjoyed. Working closely alongside The Mary Erskine School and ESMS Junior School gave me a good feel for what the staff, parents and pupils across ESMS want from the Schools. 

What has been the most challenging part of working at ESMS so far?

Gaining an understanding of all three Schools and their different traditions is a challenge when you first arrive and of course getting to know people in a short space of time can be a challenge too but it’s actually a challenge I really enjoy. I am really looking forward to getting to know my colleagues in other parts of the schools over the course of this year and exploring how I can best support them to move forward. 

Bex Jones (MES 2015), Design Consultant at Shore Group

What were your favourite subjects when you were at school?

Maths, Physics and Product Design!

When you left school, did you have a career path in mind?

I would say taking my time selecting a university course really helped me have clarity on my career path so, all going well, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do. However, it wasn’t until I was immersed in my course and had experience with various projects that I knew I would like to pursue the medical industry.

Did you find it tough getting your first role after graduating or was the pathway quite straightforward?

I unfortunately graduated during the first year of the pandemic, which meant there was a lot of uncertainty with the market. I found it quite tough initially as there weren’t many opportunities I was interested in, which caused a bit of anxiety. However, I worked in hospitality to keep me ticking over while applying, and after a few months I found a great opportunity in Edinburgh with an exciting start-up. Looking back, I’m glad I was patient and applied for jobs that were applicable, rather than rushing and potentially ending up in a less relevant role purely to succumb to the pressure of getting a job straight out of university. There’s no rush!

What helped to guide you to your role today?

In school I always enjoyed, and knew my strengths lay with, Maths and Physics. I was intrigued with how things worked and therefore knew engineering would favour these skills. However, I also had a very keen interest in the creative aspect of Product Design and the relationship between people and products, which is what made my university course so ideal, as I was able to combine these passions. Over the five years of the PDE course, the huge variety projects and opportunities helped guide me towards my career today.

What inspired you to pursue a career in product design in the medical sector?

I was always drawn to medical based projects at university and completed a few throughout my five years. On the back of my fourth-year project, I was fortunate enough to be selected for an internship in New Zealand, where I spent 7 weeks working for a Telecare company designing assistive devices. I believe this solidified my desire to work in the medical industry as I got to see first-hand the positive impact you can make on people’s lives through great innovation. It was no shock then that my final year project, where you can choose whatever topic you please, was medical related. I was able to speak to some incredible medical professionals and users in the hospital throughout the project, which was an invaluable experience and one I won’t forget.  I also followed Shore’s work during university, even applying to intern some summers, and was always interested in their amazing projects. So, I think a combination of these various experiences and research within the medical industry are what inspired me to pursue this area. 

Can you tell us about a project that you have worked on that is live in the sector?

In my previous job I worked on a product called BackHug, which is a robotic physiotherapy bed that is designed to mobilise the joints around the spine to help people with chronic back pain and conditions like Multiple Sclerosis. This is currently the only project I have worked on that is live in the sector, which is amazing as I’ve been able to see how user’s day-to-day pain has been reduced drastically, and their lives improved with it. 

An exciting project that will be live in the future that I have been working on since joining Shore is a novel, reusable drug delivery system designed for self-administration. We are designing this for a large pharmaceutical company, which has been an amazing experience to work so closely with the clients. I’m very excited to see how the project comes out as I think it’s an incredible concept for the future of drug delivery systems. 

What is your role at Shore and what does it involve day-to-day?

I am a Design Consultant / Mechanical Design Engineer. The great thing about working at a consultancy like Shore is that my day-to-day tasks can vary greatly depending on the phase of the project we are in. I was very fortunate to join my project from the early stages, so I have had a diverse range of tasks since joining in December. For example, in initial concept generation, I spent a lot of time on CAD, 3D printing prototypes, and then testing these before making iterations. Then further along the process I have been involved in human factor studies, testing out a shortlist of concepts to be taken forward for development.

What do you like most about your job?

The variety of tasks I do is one of my favourite things about my job as it allows to me continue developing my skills over a wide range of areas. However, my favourite thing is knowing I’m contributing to designing and creating products that are helping people and improving their lives in some way.

What has been the most challenging part of your career so far?

Probably moving jobs from my previous one to Shore, as there was a lot of anxiety when handing in my notice, worrying about letting people down or moving on too early. However, if you’re sure of something you want then you have to put yourself first and take your chances while you can.

Do you have any advice for pupils at ESMS who might wish to follow a similar career path?

It’s really beneficial to take your time looking into your university course and what it can offer you. The projects and extracurricular clubs are extremely valuable in helping you decide what you enjoy and are passionate about. Also don’t be afraid to ask questions or to question something! I think if you’re curious about things, creative or even just enthusiastic, then engineering is a career that I highly recommend. Having a job that provides you with such a diverse range of skills and a variety of projects to work on and learn from is extremely rare, in my opinion, so go for it! You never know, your blue-sky ideas could change people’s lives. 

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Still designing and innovating medical devices with hopefully some projects that are live in the sector and doing well! Shore have previously won The Red Dot Design Award, an international competition, for their designs so I would love to have been on a project that is nominated or successful in this in five years.

What’s your fondest memory from your schooldays?

I think it has to be the Christmas Panto. It was always such a fun time of year, everyone was in the best of spirits, and the teachers always put on a good show.

Melville College Reunion

An informal reunion for all Melville College former pupils will take place on Friday 4 November at the Clubhouse at Inverleith starting at 2.00pm. As part of the reunion, the downstairs function room will be renamed the Dougie Morgan Room. There will be a display of Melville College memorabilia during the afternoon.

The invitation is extended to all Melville College former pupils and for those who wish to bring their partner. The cost is £18 per person.  Anyone who wishes to attend please contact David Dunsire, Clerk/Treasurer, Melville College Trust via email : daviddunsire@outlook.com.

Christina Cheung (MES 2011), Senior Business Sustainability Analyst at B Lab Global

What were your favourite subjects when you were at school?

It changed from year to year depending on what we were learning but on the whole my favourite subjects were Maths, Chemistry, Art and Product Design. I liked Maths and Chemistry as I prefer working with numbers and equations than reading/writing large amounts of text. Similarly with Art and Product Design I enjoyed being able to express myself through drawings rather than writing essays. 

When you left school, did you have a clear career path in mind?

When I was leaving school, I’d already accepted a place at university to study Chemistry so I had some idea I would end up in a STEM career. However, I didn’t have a clear career path in mind and I purposefully chose Chemistry as I felt it was a broad enough subject to keep my options open. A career in sustainability was definitely not on the horizon, the word ‘sustainability’ wasn’t even in my vocabulary at the time, let alone a potential career path.

Did you find it tough getting your first role after graduating or was the pathway quite straightforward?

I graduated with an MChem in Chemistry, from the University of Edinburgh. It was a challenging degree and in the end I didn’t achieve the degree grade I was anticipating. I was used to achieving high grades throughout school and the majority of university so when I received the lower than expected grade my confidence took a significant hit.

Whilst trying to figure out what my next step should be, I received some great advice from a university tutor who me that if a career in Chemistry wasn’t a good fit for me, I could easily change career. My tutor highlighted that it was likely I’d have 3 or 4 different careers in my lifetime and that I was graduating in a different time to when my parents were picking their jobs as they would likely keep one job for a long period of time. That advice really helped me to see the bigger picture and I realised I didn’t need to pursue a typical Chemistry graduate career like working in a lab if it didn’t feel right. I ended up working various jobs including being a science communicator, a criminal defence caseworker and box office manager for a couple of years before finding a job that led me on my current career path. So, my tutor was right and within the first two years after graduating I’d already created potential career paths. 

What motivated you to go into sustainability?

Understanding the urgency of the climate crisis and how our planet will be affected if we don’t take action steered me towards a career in sustainability. Taking action for me means trying to live consciously to reduce my individual carbon footprint, such as using a reusable water bottle, eating less meat or avoiding buying fast fashion. These conscious choices do add up collectively, however, I decided that if I could dedicate my career to causes which mitigate the worst effects of climate change I’d be able to make a greater impact than my individual actions. I think it’s important to acknowledge it’s a privilege to be able to make sustainable choices and not everyone can choose to buy something that’s organic, fair trade and zero-waste for example. Reflecting on this, I felt businesses, especially large corporations, needed to take more responsibility for the environmental and social impacts their products and services have and how they should work towards making sustainable choices accessible for all. This is what motivated me to pursue a career supporting businesses to operate sustainably. 

What is your role at B Lab Global and what does it involve day-to-day?

For some context, B Lab Global certifies B Corporations or B Corps for short. We define B Corps as businesses who achieve high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency . As a Senior Business Sustainability Analyst I’m responsible for assessing businesses to meet our standards. I specialise in working with Large Enterprise and Multinational Companies which means I work with businesses with revenues above $100M and who operate in multiple countries. Each day looks different as we are typically working with several companies at the same time who are at different stages of their certification journey. They could be in the process of becoming a B Corp for the first time or they could be recertifying, this happens every three years, where we re-review their business practices to ensure they are consistently meeting our standards. We do this using the B Impact Assessment, which is a free online tool that any business can use to track their positive social and environmental impact.  So my day usually consists of reviewing supporting evidence companies have submitted and assessing if it can verify the company’s practices and meet B Lab’s standard’s requirements. If they are not able to meet the requirements, we can provide guidance on improvements to make. As well as reviewing documentation, my time is spent engaging with businesses ahead of certifying to review the scope of their operations to ensure we certify their impact in a meaningful way.

What do you like the most about your job?

Sustainability is applicable to all businesses regardless of the industry they operate in, so I really appreciate being able to work with a diverse range of businesses around the world. It’s interesting to understand the sustainability challenges different businesses face depending on the industry, geographical location or political climate they are operating in.  

I feel motivated working with multinational companies because if we can support them to make changes and do business in a more sustainable way, it’s great to reflect on the large impact this can have on their workers, the communities they operate in and for the environment.

What has been the most challenging part of your career so far?

As you can see from my previous answers, I didn’t have a clear career path in mind leaving school and still wasn’t any closer to knowing what I wanted to do after graduating from university. It took a lot of trial and error before I had an idea of what sort of job I wanted to pursue.

Is there a particular company or organisation you admire due to their sustainability credentials or their promotion of sustainability?

There are a few that come to mind, I really value businesses who have cleverly designed their business models to incorporate circular economy thinking to minimise waste. For example, British Sugar, produce their sugar from sugar beets grown in Norfolk to make granulated sugar, they then redirect the heat and CO2 generated from production to greenhouses to grow tomatoes. By redirecting their waste streams they were able to reduce their carbon emissions and produce an additional food product. Another company I admire is Fairphone, who manufacture sustainable smart phones. I value their commitment to ensuring fair working conditions and fair wages throughout their supply chains as well as their focus on ensuring precious metals are responsibly sourced. Beyond their sustainability commitments in manufacturing the product they’ve also considered the environmental footprint at the end of the phone’s lifecycle and have purposefully designed their phones to be taken apart so that consumers can repair their phones rather than throwing their phones away. They are also a B Corp which means they meet the high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. For more inspiration of sustainable businesses, you can check out the B Corp directory on our website: https://www.bcorporation.net/en-us/find-a-b-corp.

Do you have any advice for pupils at ESMS who might wish to follow a similar career path?

Sustainability is a broad field, so my advice for ESMS pupils interested in sustainability but who are unsure where to start is to check out the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. These aligned goals by UN members aim to address the most urgent sustainability issues we are facing globally. There are 17 goals so I would recommend reading through the goals and choosing the issues that light a fire in you or sparks your curiosity.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I feel I’ve found a great organisation in B Lab Global so I hope to still be at B Lab in five years’ time continuing to support businesses make impactful changes to how they operate. Though if you look at my CV, you’ll see I like to move on to a new challenge after a few years so I’m not certain where exactly I’ll be in five years but I know I’ll most likely be in a sustainability related role. 

What’s your fondest memory from your schooldays?

My favourite memories include my first day joining Mary Erskine at the start of third year, it was an exciting time starting a new school and it was the day I met my friends who I’m still friends with today! Of course, Carbisdale and the Christmas panto have a special place in my heart but I think what I miss the most is just being able to see my friends every day and the times we could have a laugh together.