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From Apprentice to Expert:A Civil Engineer's Memoir

Kindle edition

By Hugh Allan

As a student he had a bit part role in constructing what then were the tallest blocks of flats in Europe.

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Fifty years later and in a few short minutes, the huge towers were reduced to heaps of rubble by controlled explosion. Those events spanned a career that started as an apprentice civil engineer in a Scottish municipal engineer’s office and via Yorkshire, the Middle East, Africa and continental Europe, ended as an expert witness in legal proceedings.

Like many civil engineers, the career was packed with projects – infrastructure to be planned, designed, constructed and managed.  But if you expect to find details of the design of the Loch Lomond Water Supply Scheme, or the wastewater treatment plants in Baghdad, Athens and Tunis, or the before and after water leakage statistics in Chemnitz and Cork, you will be disappointed. They are available but not in this publication.

What you will read about however is what life was like in a Scottish municipal engineer’s office in the 1960s, in 1970s and 80s Iraq for expatriates working there at a time of some conflict, and a white European male trying to fit into a post apartheid rainbow nation’s ways of planning a better future for all its citizens.

In later years, rather uncomfortably badged as an “expert” and riding on what some might describe as the EC’s gravy train, satisfactory outcomes were delivered which were of benefit to communities that had been starved of freedom and modern infrastructure investment under the communist era.

The fifty years were not without their unexpected moments – from witnessing the first air raids on Baghdad at the outbreak of the Iraq-Iran war, to gaming the Slovak national health service as “Monika” so as to fast track his diagnosis and treatment.

The consulting engineering business provided stimulating employment to many in the second half of the twentieth century. The author reflects on the changes that took place, from that of a comfortable closed shop to one of tough competition and financial discipline.


Profits from the sale of the book go to the Benevolent Fund of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

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