Obituary: Ian McMurtrie, 89

Ian McMurtrie. Picture: Contributed
Ian McMurtrie. Picture: Contributed
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FIREFIGHTER and museum curator Ian McMurtrie MBE has died at the age of 89.

Born in Stockbridge, Ian was very close to his grandfather, station officer Tom McMurtrie, and particularly proud of the fact that his great-grandfather, Sergeant Thomas McMurtrie had been involved at the site of a heroic rescue in 1861, following the collapse of a seven-storey tenement in the Old Town.

Ian would also have his fair share of drama in the service but not until he spent the first decade of his working life in a diverse variety of roles.

Barely into his teens, he began as a print runner, ferrying stories to typesetters. Then, at 17, he started an apprenticeship as a ship’s plater with Henry Robb at Leith Docks.

Working in a reserved occupation meant he could not do his bit for King and country on active service but, in 1942, he joined the Home Guard, serving as a rifleman based at Edinburgh Academy.

Determined to join the army, he eventually managed to get permission to leave his apprenticeship and sign up as a regular soldier, albeit after the war. He joined the Royal Scots and was later transferred to the Ulster Rifles, serving in Palestine.

After leaving the army he returned to complete his apprenticeship but, with the shipbuilding industry in decline post-war, he was made redundant. In 1949, he moved to Manchester to build railway engines.

By this time he had already met Betty, his bride-to-be, and missed both her and Stockbridge. He returned home and opted to join the fire service. He started with the South Eastern Fire Brigade at Dalkeith fire station in December 1949. From there he went to Lauriston fire station where he spent eight years.

Moving up the ranks, he was sent to London Road as a leading fireman and three months later was promoted to sub officer, serving at both Musselburgh and London Road before being promoted to station officer at Dalkeith.

But he was soon on the move back to Lauriston, in charge of White Watch. In 1966, he was promoted to assistant divisional officer in B Division, based at Lauriston. He went on to reach the rank of assistant firemaster and served, for a short time, as acting deputy firemaster prior to retiring in 1983.

But his greatest professional legacy is undoubtedly the Museum of Fire which, in its various guises, he had been involved with for more than half a century, being appointed curator in 1963. On retiring he returned to the service as civilian museum curator and in 1984 his work was recognised with the MBE. The facility, in Lauriston Place where he spent most of his working life, documents the history of the UK’s oldest municipal fire brigade, established in 1824.

Although he retired again from the fire service at the age of 65, he was appointed honorary curator.

Mr McMurtrie is survived by his wife Betty, whom he married in 1953, their children Kenneth, Jamie and Kirsty, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.