IN THE 1920s and 1930s, it was one - just one - of the strengths of the rigorous traditional Scottish education system that many of the most talented graduates of their generation in mathematics and science opted for schoolteaching. An example was Andrew Cameron, later prominent as Director of Education for Dumbartonshire and an influential voice not only in Scottish, but UK education.
Cameron was born into a family of upholsterers - the west of Scotland description of fitters, decorators, and furniture makers. After an academically distinguished schooling at Woodside Academy, he won a bursary to the Mathematics and Natural Philosophy department of Glasgow University. At that time the Professor of Mathematics was Thomas Murray MacRobert, a world authority on trigonometry and spherical harmonics. The Natural Philosophy (physics) department was headed by a remarkable Welshman, Edward Taylor Jones, the authority on magnetic stress and electric spark ignition. Cameron was highly thought of by both these heavyweights and graduated with First Class honours in both maths and physics.
Very unusually Cameron spent his entire classroom career, from 1931 to 1946, in the same school - but that school was the High School of Glasgow, which then and now attracts exceptionally precocious pupils. David Lees, later Rector of the High School, told me on the ship's school Dunera in 1961, when Cameron was a fellow educationist passenger, that 15 years later his name was still legendary as a classroom practitioner and inspirer of clever boys in search of excellence in physics and mathematics. One of his pupils, later a Fellow of the Royal Society, said Cameron's achievement as a teacher was uniquely to give clever, nervous pupils confidence in handling relatively abstruse mathematical concepts.
Cameron's life was enriched by marriage in 1933 to Catherine Montador. She was the daughter of Captain John Montador of Pittenweem in the East Neuk of Fife, a veritable sea-dog of Huguenot descent, who had started in sailing ships and was later to insist on taking part in the Battle of the Atlantic in his late sixties as a much-respected and daring merchantman commander.
In the Second World War, Cameron combined teaching with work for the Admiralty and the Ministry of Aircraft Production Telecommunications Research Establishment. The Superintendent, for whom Cameron worked, was the then 40-year-old Philip Dee FRS, picked by CTR Wilson, Nobel Prize winner of cloud- chamber fame, to be a Fellow of Sidney Sussex, Cambridge, and lecturer in the Cavendish Laboratory. Cameron, whose interest in magnetic stress had been roused years before by Edward Taylor Jones, was extremely useful in addressing the practical problems posed by mine detection and it was he who first suggested that Dee in the middle of the war should apply for Jones's chair of natural philosophy. Their friendship was to be fruitful for the following 30 years. Cameron encouraged teachers to develop contacts with the university and take courses in holiday periods to keep abreast of the rapidly changing approach to physics, decades before schoolteacher fellowships and university-school relationships became fashionable. A great many working-class boys (and a handful of lassies) owe their careers in science and industry to Cameron's initiatives. When Dee died in 1983, Cameron compared his role as a great teacher of clever and gifted physicists in Scotland to that of Sommerfeld in Austria and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s at Gottingen.
In 1946 Cameron was headhunted by the Ayrshire County Council education committee to apply for the post of Deputy Director of Education. At that time, Ayrshire education was bedevilled by a series of vastly complicated entailed trusts, of which the case of the Marr Trust was only the most celebrated. It was among Cameron's tasks to merge these sources of finance for the benefit of Ayrshire pupils as a whole, which he accomplished with characteristic painstaking skill. He is also remembered for contributing the wisdom of Solomon to the vexed issue of the building of Roman Catholic schools to which they were entitled under the 1918 Act but which caused considerable resentment in 'orange' areas of the county. In Ayrshire, as a fervent believer in modern-language teaching - he once told me that he would like to have studied French and German at university but thought that he was more likely to get a job by tackling physics - he pioneered language teaching under the benevolent eye of the director, the formidable WTH Inglis. In 1947 Cameron insisted in the face of acrimony on bringing young German teachers to Ayrshire schools on an annual basis to promote the learning of spoken German. Two years after VE Day that took some guts.
Predictably, in 1962, after two years as director of education for Dumbartonshire, he was the first to give the imprimatur of approval for hundreds of his pupils to go on the ship's school Dunera for fortnightly educational cruises. It was important to him that the tough, mostly unacademic boys and girls of Kirkintilloch and Vale of Leven should get their opportunity for a taste of Europe. For this academically gifted mathematician obligations to non-academic pupils became uppermost in his mind as he neared retirement. As a result of the favourable impression that he made on Sir Donald Anderson, then chairman and managing director of P & O, and his brother Sir Colin Anderson, a director of P & O Marine Insurance, the Midland Bank and umpteen other organisations, Cameron was put on the advisory board for school cruising. Sir Donald, par excellence the successful London Scot, told me, 'Cameron is the kind of fellow whose ideas and participation we back with money' (British India had put in pounds 5m to converting the Dunera from a troopship); but then judgement was Cameron's greatest strength.
From my personal experience on the ship's school and a Scottish education I can say that he performed the supreme task of a director of education, the picking of the right headteachers, with unerring accuracy. Leading headmasters like William Monaghan, President of the Educational Institute of Scotland, and Alec Rennie, brother of John Rennie of John Brown's who built the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, held Cameron in the very highest regard. Such regard from those in the position to know was the best testimony.