William Auld was born on 6 November 1924 at Hainault, Lesney Park Road, Erith, Kent, the son of Scottish Parents, George Auld, a draughtsman and structural engineer and his wife, Williamina Rose (Minnie), née Roy, a shorthand typist. At the time of his birth his parents lived at 24 Bexley Road, Crayford, Kent. Auld also had a younger sister who was almost 8 years his junior.
At the age of 9 years, the family left Kent and returned to its roots in Scotland. Bill was showing an early talent at school and won a scholarship to the prestigious Allan Glen's School in Glasgow, where he excelled at sport, playing football, rugby, and hockey.
He was also an avid reader. From the age of ten he was a regular visitor to the public library in the Glasgow’s Gorbals district, where he found books in such languages as Russian and Polish, reflecting the cosmopolitanism of the city. It was at this time that Auld discovered books in the international language Esperanto. Auld later stated that ‘he liked the egalitarian nature of the language – the brother hood of man aspect.” Auld attributed his love of languages to his paternal grandmother, a native Gaelic speaker who learned English whilst in domestic service in Glasgow. Auld was bewitched with the notion that one could think in a language that was not English.
In addition to his own library visits, as a twelve-year-old boy scout, Auld encountered the scout promise in Esperanto, and asked his scout-leader if he knew about the language. The scoutmaster obliged by giving him a copy of Montagu C. Butler’s book ‘Step by Step in Esperanto’. From this book Auld acquired a sound theoretical knowledge of the language as he did not come into contact with other Esperantists and had little chance of practical use, until he moved to Helensburgh.
In 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War Auld's family moved to Helensburgh, where he completed his schooling at Hermitage School. When Auld was 16, he became friends with John Francis, a fellow student at Hermitage School. In his own words ‘They became the closest of friends” and John learned Esperanto on Auld’s recommendation. They were to remain lifelong friends.
John recalled later how Bill caused quite an impression at Hermitage when he appeared wearing the ‘fashions of a rugby enthusiast’ including trousers and stockings, presumably in keeping with his previous Allen Glen’s schooldays. Despite Bill’s best efforts it was noted that he did not manage to convert Hermitage to the joys of Rugby.
The two friends began to use Esperanto between themselves, and continued to do so when they both joined the air force. Bill was drawn to aviation. Whilst he was younger, he had overheard his Father, who had been wounded in the First World War, stating to his friends during a discussion over the impending war that Bill was certain to fly. He was proved right, with Bill joining the Youth Flying Corps in Helensburgh, a cadet movement similar to the Scouts but run by the Royal Air Force.
At this time Auld’s mother bought the Holy Bible in Esperanto for Bill, hoping that he would finally ‘find religion’ and convert her son from atheism.
In 1942, following graduation from Hermitage School, Bill enrolled in the University of Glasgow. At the same time he joined the army, and because of voluntary enlistment was able to choose the Air Force, because he wanted to fly, and could not join the air force if drafted.
Bill joined the Air Force in November 1942, when he was 18 years old and trained as a pilot in Rhodesia for more than six months. In 1944 he came top of fifty candidates for “high altitude espionage work i.e. observation and photography from an altitude of up to 40,000 feet, with another task being the directing of artillery attacks. In this capacity he piloted Spitfires in North Africa, the Middle East, Italy, Greece, and Palestine. After the war he was briefly a test pilot.
Bill returned to Glasgow in November 1946, but continued to serve in the army until 1947, when he enrolled at Glasgow University to study English language and literature, meanwhile continuing to study and practise his Esperanto. During his university days, he would meet up with John Francis and the Esperanto poet and essayist Reto Rossetti, and the three would test each other's knowledge of obscure Esperanto vocabulary.
Encouraged by Rossetti, Auld began to read widely in Esperanto, and was confident enough to contribute to the Scottish Esperanto periodical ‘Esperanto en Skotlando’ founded in 1947. The three men, together with John Dinwoodie, would eventually form The Scottish School (Skota Skolo) of Esperanto.
Also in 1947 Auld became engaged to Margaret Barr (known to Bill as Meta) Stewart, two years younger and whom he had known since he was fifteen. At her request they decided not to marry until 1952, to allow her to complete her training as a nurse.
They eventually married in Clydebank on 8 August 1952. To help support his wife and family (daughter Judith (1954) and a son, Roy (1956)), Auld found work in a factory.
In 1952 Bill also found the time to publish his first book of Esperanto poetry ‘Spiro de l’pasio’ (Breath of Passion) and it was to be the first in a career that was to span over 50 volumes of translations, poetry and textbooks. His first translation also appeared later that year, Jack London's The Whale Tooth. It was also the year that The Scottish School became a published entity with the appearance of the volume of poetry Kvaropo (Foursome).
Bill Auld finally graduated with an MA in English from Glasgow University in 1955 and obtained a teaching qualification in 1956. He taught in Johnstone and Paisley before moving in 1960 to be head of department at Lornshill Academy, Alloa, where two years later he was promoted to Depute Rector (Deputy Head). He remained at the school until retirement.
In 1963 the family moved to Dollar, Clackmannanshire, and set up home at 20 Harviestoun Road, where Auld lived for the rest of his life.
Much of Auld's most important writing dates from his time as a teacher or trainee teacher, including the epic poem La Infana Raso (‘The infant race’), published in 1956 and described in a contemporary review as ‘almost without parallel’ in Esperanto. A long poem of 25 chapters on the theme of “the role of the human race in time and the universe”and is inspired in part by Ezra Pound’s ‘Cantos’. It was this work that defined Auld as the pre-eminent Esperanto writer of the post war years.
A collection of poems, Unufingraj melodioj (‘Melodies for one finger’), followed in 1960. Auld's translations encompassed Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott, Byron and Burns, culminating in 1995 with all three volumes of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings – an accomplishment which Auld described as his greatest achievement.
Throughout his life he continued to edit numerous Esperanto magazines and journals and was Vice-President of the World Esperanto Association from 1977 to 1980 and President of the Academy of Esperanto from 1979 to 1983 and honorary president of the Esperanto PEN Centre. Bill personally edited the Esperanto Association of Britain’s journal for 28 years, a post he relinquished one month before his 75th birthday in October 2000.
His talent was recognised on the world stage when he received three nominations for The Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999, 2004 and 2006 - a incredible tribute to the foremost Esperanto writer of his generation who had embarked on a literary journey in Helensburgh, with his best friend, some 60 years earlier.
On the 7th December 2001, Bill donated personal collection of Esperanto literature to the National Library of Scotland, and at a speech at the ceremony, he stated: “My love of the Esperanto language in no way diminishes my love of English; and that is why it sets my teeth on edge to hear foreigners massacring my mother tongue as they inevitably do when using it. None of this applies to Esperanto."
“As long as there are individuals who genuinely aspire to a common humanity, Esperanto will continue to be used.”
William Auld died on 11th September 2006, in Dollar, leaving his wife, two children and four grandchildren.