David Guild

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Linguist, philologist and environmentalist

Born: 21 March, 1933, in Jabalpur, India.

Died: 1 June, 2008, in Edinburgh, aged 75.

DAVID Guild would have been known to readers of The Scotsman's letters page as a frequent commentator on transport and railway improvement.

He was born in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. His father was a Tranent-born captain in the Indian medical service. The family returned to Scotland in a troopship at the start of the Second World War.

David was educated at the Edinburgh Academy, and graduated in French and Russian at the University of Edinburgh. He then taught French for a short period, before moving to an appointment at the Manchester College of Science & Technology (subsequently UMIST), teaching Russian to scientists. In 1964 he returned to the department of Russian in Edinburgh, then expanding under the leadership of Professor Denis Ward. David's versatility as a linguist led to his teaching courses in Polish, Serbo-Croat and his real speciality, comparative Slavonic philology. He is remembered with great respect and affection by his many ex-students.

The research for his PhD thesis, on the comparison of Baltic and Slavonic languages, produced a special interest in Baltic languages. The Association for Advancement of Baltic Studies invited him to contribute papers to international conferences in the United States, Scandinavia and the Baltic states after the demise of the Soviet Union. These conferences were a source of great pleasure to him, to meet the fairly small band of other specialists in this field. His translation of Briedis, a biography of a commander of the Latvian riflemen during the First World War and the early part of the Russian Revolution, was published in the periodical, Revolutionary Russia. He contributed an article to the Encyclopedia of Languages and Linguistics and at the time of his death he was employed in translating a set of memoirs of Second World War Latvian patriots.

David served in the Royal Naval Reserve for more than 20 years, reaching the rank of lieutenant commander, and received the Reserves Decoration. In the reserve, his multilingual skills were much in demand for intelligence and interpreting purposes.

This knowledge of many languages was well used by the police, and involved visits to police cells to reassure Russian sailors that the police here were different from the police at home and one court case when he had to interpret from an obscure Latvian dialect.

On his retirement, his considerable energies were focused on his real concern over global warming and the need to reduce emissions. He felt passionately that environmentally sustainable transport was one area in which he could help by raising public awareness of the need to shift freight transport from road to rail. He was convinced that electrification of the rail network, as had been done in France, could make a significant contribution to lowering emissions and he campaigned tirelessly for this.

His particular concern was the need for electrified high-speed links between England and Scotland, to reduce the need for short-haul flights.

David was also an ongoing advocate of reopening the South Suburban line, the Borders Railway and of the Dornoch Rail link.

David Guild married Heather Rutherford in 1963. She and their son, Magnus, survive him.