Former students of Leith Nautical College to meet up

Several alumni at Leith Nautical College have been tracked down for a big reunion event in September, decades after they set off to sea together.
Several alumni at Leith Nautical College have been tracked down for a big reunion event in September, decades after they set off to sea together.
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DOZENS of seafarers who studied at a well-loved former maritime college are set to reunite for a special activity weekend in September.

The reunion will bring together former staff, students, colleagues and classmates from the Leith Nautical College who studied and sailed together over decades.

In addition, South Leith Parish Church will host an exhibition about the history of the naval training centre followed by a thanksgiving service.

Sandy Aitchison, 70, who arrived in Leith as a teenager in 1963 and went on to lecture there for several years, said the college “deserves to be remembered as an important part of Leith’s history”.

He said: “I first went to 
college to become a radio officer because I was colour blind and couldn’t go on the navigation side, but I always wanted to go to sea. It was a way a young lad from a Borders village could see the world. Leith Nautical College to me is a wonderful memory.”

Leith Navigation College was founded in 1855, changing its name in 1903 upon the opening of new premises.

The college offered courses such as marine engineering, naval architecture, telegraphy, radar and electronics for over 70 years, but it was closed by the Scottish Education Department in 1987.

Sandy said: “I hated the changes. We should be very ashamed by the way the merchant navy was treated by various governments. We lost track that we were an island nation.

“The maritime industry had a proud tradition of shipbuilding and training and skills in managing and sailing ships. And the college itself had an unsurpassed record of success.”

Students at the college went on to work in a range of companies and industries, but others would train the next generation of sailors.

Eric Lamb, 76, returned from sea to lecture at the college for 16 years. He said it was an “easy decision” to come back and teach at the college, which he says is “full of memories”.

He said: “I was at sea when my daughter was born so luckily came home when the college was advertising for a lecturer in the Edinburgh Evening News.

“I had to go back out to Australia to bring a ship home so I was able to come back and start. It fitted in nicely because I was able to impart the knowledge I’d picked up – teaching was very easy.

“But I loved being at sea, too, and I thoroughly enjoyed travelling the world. Being a radio officer meant I had time in port and I met so many people over the years.”

Everyone connected to the former college is invited for a “weekend of activities” at Edinburgh College’s Milton Road Campus on September 29 and 30, which was the home of the Nautical College in its latter ten years.

The weekend is being organised by the Edinburgh College Development Trust, the independent charity that supports students at Edinburgh College, and will follow World Maritime Day on September 27.

Gordon McFadzean, former head of electric and electronic engineering at Leith Nautical College, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for people to get back together and catch up, and I’m sure there will be plenty of incredible tales to swap.”