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William Purdie was born in 1888 at Innerwick, East Lothian, Scotland. He was the son of the village schoolmaster, and was later educated at George Watson's College Edinburgh.

In 1904 he commenced his apprenticeship in Glasgow with David and William Henderson Limited, Marine Engineers and Boilermakers, with whom he gained entry into the drawing office in 1908. In common with the practice at the time, he had, on the completion of his apprenticeship and his technical education at The Royal Technical College, Glasgow, to seek another employer in order to qualify for an improver's rate of payment. To this end, he forsook his love of steam for that of diesel, by taking up employment in the Diesel Drawing Office of Willans and Robertson of Rugby, working on the development of land diesel engines. He remained with them for about two years when, because of impending marriage, in 1911, he decided to return to Scotland.

Before proceeding north he dropped in on Doxfords, just to have a look around, indicating that he would stay for no longer than a year. He eventually retired after forty two years service!

He joined Doxfords in 1911 at the start of experimental work on the development of large marine oil engines for merchant vessels, as a draughtsman under K.O. Keller, in 1919 he became Chief Draughtsman and Designer of the Oil Engine Drawing Office. In the ensuing years, the Doxford Opposed Piston Oil Engine underwent many changes through his guidance; he was always striving to produce a lighter, shorter, more efficient and, of course, a cheaper engine. He did not really approve of the use of heavy fuel oils on the engine, as demanded by some of the ship owners in the 1920's, but he was often to remark that, if they so wished, he was quite sure he could make the engine operate on pulverised fire brick if necessary.

He was appointed Assistant Engineering Manager in 1942 under Mr. Keller. In 1944 after the death of Mr. Keller he was appointed Director and General Manager. In 1953 after forty-two years service he retired from this position, remaining on the Board as a consultant at their request until 1958, when he felt that the way should be left for the more up and coming younger men.

For all his lifetime spent amidst oil engines, he retained up to the end a great fondness for steam locomotion. From his youth he had had a great desire to drive steam locomotives, an ambition he never managed to achieve. It was a great disappointment to him to see the great steam trains ousted by diesel and electric power. In his early retirement days, he would often motor some 270 miles to watch the engines at Tebay picking up water at speed from the troughs.

An account of his contribution to engineering, and in particular to marine engineering, would fill a lengthy volume, but his life and work can be summed up by saying that he was indeed one of the industry's great gentlemen.

This article is an extract from the North East Coast Institution.

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