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Capt. Thomas Black Duncan M.C. 1889 - 1962

by Tom Duncan his son.


Thomas Black Duncan was born on 21st November 1889. He was towards the middle of a large family of five boys and four girls who lived above their father’s drapery shop in High Street, Leslie, a paper-making town in west Fife.

Tom must have excelled at school and by the time he was sixteen had become a pupil teacher, which was the way schools in these days ran, with help from the older pupils. In 1909, Tom came to Glasgow to attend University, the first in his family and the only one to do so.

He attended University under the auspices of what was then the Glasgow Provincial Committee for the Training of Teachers and may have gained a bursary under the City Educational Endowments Board or the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland. The latter was established by Andrew Carnegie in order that ‘no capable student should be debarred from attending the University on account of the payment of fees.’

Certainly in 1912 he gained the City of Glasgow Scholarship of £100 as the most distinguished student in training. He was clearly committed to the teaching profession.

Click Larger Image - Thomas Duncan picture taken here as a Second Leutenant.


2nd Lt. Thomas Black Duncan

Tom had a very good undergraduate record. Although he studied in the Arts Faculty, and took classes in Latin and Political Economy, his passion was for Science. He gained a clutch of First Class Distinctions in Natural Philosophy, Physics Lab, and Intermediate Honours Mathematics, as well as a Second Class certificate in Chemistry. At this time in his life, however, as in the lives of so many others, events took a dramatic turn. World War 1 began in the autumn of 1914 and put thoughts of careers, and in Tom’s case of graduation, on hold. By the time he graduated MA with Honours in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy on 21st June 1915, he was already in uniform.

As a member of the OTC, Tom had applied to serve in the 3rd Battalion of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) in the Special Reserve in February 1915. He was posted to the 1st Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers in July 1915, then to the 2nd Battalion Scottish Rifles on 18th October. He was transferred to the 23rd Trench Mortar Battery in February 1916. He was given command of that Battery on 8th July 1916, and awarded the temporary rank of Captain. His was an active service. Following action in the Somme campaign, and in particular, for his part in events in October that year, he was awarded the Military Cross (MC). The citation reads: ‘For conspicuous gallantry in action. He fought his trench mortars with great courage and skill throughout the operations. He has previously done fine work.’ (near Gueudecourt 23rd October 1916).

Nearly a year later, in August 1917, he was reported as suffering from debility from stress of service, reflected in tremor of the hands and eyelids. He left France on 20th September 1917 to begin recuperating. He was ordered to report for duty with OC Royal Flying Corps cadet brigade, St Leonards on Sea on 11th November for an observers’ course. However, on examination, he was considered not to be sufficiently fit to be a pilot or an observer, due to stress of service and deteriorated eyesight after 28 months of continuous service in France. From 4th March 1918 he was deployed as an instructor in the Cadet Brigade, the Officers Technical Training Wing of the Royal Flying Corps (later to become the RAF). He was not demobilised until April 1919 and his commission was only relinquished a year later, in 1920.

When Tom came back to Glasgow he returned to University, and after taking further classes in Physics and Geology, graduated BSc on 4th February 1921. He was ready to teach again. He was appointed Lecturer in Physics and Dynamics at the Royal Technical College, where he may have met his future wife, who was tutoring there in the early 1920s. He resumed his school teaching career at Whitehill School in 1921, but also continued conducting evening classes at the College for many years thereafter. On his return to Glasgow, Tom carried out much research on developing radio communication, reflected in the licence he retained from 1923 from the General Post Office, London, ‘to conduct experiments with wireless telegraph equipment, and to use applications for receiving wireless signals for the purpose of giving demonstrations.’

He married Jessie Cameron in 1924 and they had five children. He continued his teaching career at Riverside School and later at Queens Park Secondary School, where he retired as Deputy Head in 1955. He continued teaching for several years after that at Allan Glen’s School. As well as taking evening classes in Mathematics and Dynamics at the Royal Technical College, he was well known in Glasgow as a private tutor. His obituary records that ‘he was well known to pupils all over Scotland through these books of examination papers which he edited, supplying answers and many useful hints.’ He was also a noted student of the life and works of Robert Burns, on whom he wrote and spoke widely.

Thomas Black Duncan died after a short illness on 4th February 1962.


Biography: Biography details contributed by Tom Duncan, his son.
University of Glasgow Registry, Faculty and General Council Records



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