Obituary: Ian J Fleming, agricultural engineer whose deep love of the land resulted in a great farming legacy
BORN: 19 March 1915, in London. Died: 1 October, 2012, in Edinburgh, aged 97
Ian Fleming was the oldest professional Agricultural Engineer in the country, a member of the Institute of Agricultural Engineers for more than 60 years. He would like the fact that his main legacy is to be found in the National Museum of Rural Life at Kittochside, near East Kilbride, in its collection of vintage agricultural machinery.
Ian’s association with the land dated back to the mid-1920s, when he returned from school in London to spend holidays in Blairgowrie, where he gravitated to one of the nearby farms. There was never enough money for him to become a farmer, but he achieved the next best thing, a career that was never far from the land.
In retirement, looking back over 70 years or more, Ian was conscious that he had seen and been part of the enormous social change in rural life, as advances in mechanisation, and in plant and animal breeding led to undreamt of increases in agricultural productivity. He had known farming from when it was worked exclusively by horse, with all the infrastructure and manpower this entailed.
Then, in the 1930s, he had seen the arrival of the first agricultural machines, including the first combine harvester to arrive in Scotland, now part of the Kittochside collection. In post-war years, he had sold combines and other machines throughout Scotland, including the Claas combine, which he regarded as one of the best.
He knew many of the farms in Scotland and their farmers, or their descendants, and where might be found this or that interesting machine tucked away in the corner of their steading. Ian felt that there was an important story here to be told, both in words, and through the machines that had made that story.
Ian also researched and published the stories of a number of ground-breaking Scottish engineering inventions. Sadly, although they were invented in Scotland, commercial ineptitude, excessive costs of defending intellectual property or the lack of development funding led to their being exploited elsewhere, with little if any economic benefit accruing to the original Scottish inventor.
Bell’s reaper in the 19th century was an early example, bringing little and only belated benefit to the Rev Patrick Bell, who did not take out a patent but felt it should be for the benefit of mankind. In the 20th century, single-sleeve valve engines based on the Burt-McCollum patents were perfected in a number of radial aero piston engines used in the Second World War, but never enriched their inventors. SSV engines powered Argyll cars made before and just after the First World War, and Scotland’s only indigenous tractor, the Glasgow tractor. Neither the Argyll nor the Glasgow companies survived the 1920s.
Ian Fleming was born in 1915 in London, the only child of John (“Jack”) Fleming and Kathleen Burns. Jack qualified as a chartered accountant, and had become secretary of British Dominions Insurance before he was 30. He met Kathleen while she was teaching at the Edinburgh College of Art. They were married in 1913, and set up house in London, where Ian was born. Tragically, Jack contracted TB and died when Ian was only 18 months old, leaving Kathleen to bring Ian up on her own.
Ian went to University College School in London’s Hampstead, remaining there as a boarder after Kathleen had to go to Blairgowrie to look after her parents. Ian was hooker for the 1st XV rugby, Company Sergeant Major of the Officers’ Training Corps, and captain of the shooting eight.
He graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1937 with a BSc in Agriculture. Again, he played rugby, denied a blue by a skiing injury, and was a founder member of the univeristy’s Ski Club in 1936.
After graduating, he joined first the Institute of Animal Genetics, where he made a significant study of the life cycle of the sheep tick on a farm in Ettrick, then moved to the East of Scotland College of Agriculture to teach agricultural engineering. He joined up in 1940, and the army found the perfect place for him, first in RASC, then, after its formation, in Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. Qualified as a radio mechanic and as an armament artificer, he spent much of his war around the home counties, preparing radio vans for Russia and tanks for the Normandy invasion.
During the war, the Duke of Buccleuch opened his London town house as a social centre for Scots in the services. There, the eyes of a young REME corporal were drawn to the best dancer on the floor, Margaret Watson; they were married in Dundee in 1943. After receiving his commission in 1944, Ian was posted to India for the final year before VE-day. He returned home greatly smitten with this amazing country, his fascination evident from his detailed memoir of this posting.
Ian was demobbed quickly, in late 1945. Back in Edinburgh, he picked up where he had left off, at the East of Scotland College, re-engaged on his pre-war pay! With a wife to look after and a family on the way, he quickly realised there was no future there, and that he had to make a move.
He joined Scottish Agricultural Industries (SAI), which was going into the agricultural machinery business. Working at Rosehall outside Haddington, he secured the Scottish dealership for Claas combines. SAI moved him to take charge of William Reid in Forres, with a much broader range of agricultural machinery, grain handling and dairy equipment.
Reid’s also had a millwright’s business catering to the numerous distilleries of the Moray coast. Responding to the huge quantity of fallen timber after the 1953 gales, William Reid designed an excellent portable sawmill. Ian moved to Aberdeen in the 1950s, followed quite quickly by a return to Edinburgh. There, he took charge of an agricultural work-study service, and later, of SAI’s bulk fertiliser spreading service. He retired early, in 1970, and spent ten years as training adviser to the agricultural machinery trade.
Ian was active in many bodies, contributing much to the 400th anniversary celebrations of the foundation of the University of Edinburgh in 1983, and to the centenary of the Scottish Philatelic Society in 1993, of which he was president in 1978. He was a co-author of “Britain’s First Chair of Agriculture at the University of Edinburgh – 1790-1990”, produced for the celebrations of the bicentenary of the Chair of Agriculture in 1990.
Above all, though, he wanted to leave as his legacy a record of his story of farming as he had seen it evolve from the 1920s onwards. He was joint secretary of the Scottish Country Life Museum Trust, and also its technical adviser. When, in 2001, the National Museum of Rural Life at Kittochside opened, and absorbed the collection of the Scottish Country Life Museum, Ian became an enthusiastic contributor to the merged museum. He scoured the country for examples of agricultural machines of historic interest, and ensured that these could be acquired and restored as closely as possible to their original condition.
In retirement, Ian and Margaret were fearless travellers, to India, Siberia, cruising down the River Yenesei, Russia, a canal cruise from St Petersburg to Moscow, Turkey, the wild east of Anatolia, China, Jamaica, and not least the USA, where he was so proud of his (unpaid) speeding ticket from the Montana Highway Patrol!
For someone brought up entirely by his mother, he was determined to provide a secure and balanced environment for his family. Early holidays centred on the west coast of Scotland and generally involved much walking and fishing. In the 1960s, Dormobile holidays extended the horizons of his children, with great distances travelled.
He revelled in the arrival of his four grandchildren and took a great interest in all their exploits and derived such pleasure from watching their growth into adulthood. When his great-grandchildren appeared, his sense of the continuity of the family gave him enormous satisfaction.
Encouragement of the young was not merely restricted to his own family; he was immensely hospitable and loved it when people dropped in unannounced. Since his death, many have written of doors opened or suggestions made which made a difference to their lives.
CONTRIBUTED BY HIS FAMILY
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Monday 20 May 2013
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