David Swinfen

House and Years at Fettes:
College West 1950-55

Qualifications and career:
MA, D.Phil., (Oxon), FRHistS, FRSA.

After National Service, mostly in the Malayan Campaign as a platoon commander, I went up to Oxford in 1957 on an open scholarship, where I took my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Modern History. This led to a career in Higher Education at the University of Dundee. Appointed as an assistant lecturer in 1963, I served successively as Director of American Studies, Head of Modern History, and Dean of Faculty, retiring finally in 2002 as Vice Principal and Professor of Commonwealth History. Since retirement I have worked as an educational consultant, in Scotland and Sri Lanka and as a director and chairman of a number of local and national charities. One of these has the objective of raising memorials to the victims of the notorious Tay Rail Bridge Disaster of 1879. I have also built a kit car - see photograph - which is meant to look like a 1920s Bugatti tourer.

At the moment I am on the point of completing a biography of a notable 19th century Scottish advocate, politician and judge - James Wellwood Moncreiff, 1st Baron Moncreiff of Tullibole. (Not a Fettesian -- he was born in 1811 and went to Edinburgh High School - but I'm sure if Fettes had been founded earlier in the century, his parents would have seen sense). Amongst those who have provided me with information is another OF - Norman Thomson - a contemporary of mine in College West.

I should also mention that along the way I got married to the novelist, Ann Swinfen (nee Pettit), and we brought up a family of five children. They have added to the score by producing eleven grandchildren.

What is your most cherished memory from your time at Fettes?
This is difficult to choose, but certainly having the honour of escorting the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh when they visited Fettes in 1955 was one of them.

And your least?
I suppose it must be the time I was hauled up in front of the House prefects for talking after lights out!

If relevant, what did being a scholar at Fettes mean to you?
Yes – I was awarded a scholarship. I think it was something like £80 p.a. It seems nothing now, but I remember my parents saying that without it, they could not have afforded to send me to Fettes.

What event or personality left a lasting impression on you?
The personality who had most influence on me – and on many others – was the Rev GK Booth – my housemaster and history tutor. Everyone should have one teacher at least who inspires them, and GKB was mine without a doubt.

Were you a conscientious student?
Yes – from time to time.

Outside the classroom, how did you spend your free time at Fettes?
Indoors, I spent a lot of time listening to and playing music. I learned the ‘cello at Fettes, and performed in the orchestra and the choir. Outdoors I played squash, fives, and open range shooting, ending up as team captain in all three sports. I also served as a House and School Prefect, and as Deputy Head of School.