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17 October 2014

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Jimmie Guthrie win European Grand Prix 1935

Jimmie Guthrie

Photo courtesy of Hawick Museum

For a modest-sized town, Hawick has produced more than its fair share of sporting stars: sailor Sir Chay Blyth, Scotland rugby star Jim Renwick and the motorcycling hero Steve Hislop are all from the Borders town. But in terms of UK and international success, no-one can compete with the achievements of 1930s motorcycling star Jimmie Guthrie. His story is remarkable.

Jimmie Guthrie was born in Hawick on 23 May 1897. On leaving school he became an apprentice engineer with a local firm. He joined the Border Battalion of the 4th King's Own Scottish Borderers and on his 18th birthday headed off to the horrors of Gallipoli and the Great War. In a dreadful accident, 215 men were killed just miles from home, when their troop train collided with a goods train at Gretna and was subsequently hit by an express. Guthrie did not return to Hawick until the war ended, a gruelling tour of duty that took in Turkey, Egypt, Palestine and the Western Front in France.

It was in France that he became a dispatch rider and it is surely there that he developed his skills in handling motorcycles. After the war, Jimmie and his brother Archie joined the Hawick Motorcycle Club and took part in hill climbs and racing on grass tracks. Jimmie established himself as a promising rider, and the club, recognising his potential, put him forward for his first Isle of Man TT race in 1923. Sadly, his bike failed him in that Junior race (up to 350cc) but he went on to achieve great success on the island in later years, winning six times.

Articles that have been written on Guthrie over the years describe him as a sincere, quiet, generous and humble man. Once on a motorcycle, though, Guthrie was a formidable figure.

The curator of Hawick Museum, Richard White, talks of Guthrie being known for driving at speed in the roads around the town. “When the weather allowed,” White says, “he would get up early for a practice ride down to Keswick in the Lake District and be back in time for work in the motor business he and his brother ran in the town's High Street. He was a teetotaller and had a real sense of self-discipline.”

Jimmie Guthrie in the 1927 TT race

Photo courtesy of Bob McIntyre family

In his early career Guthrie rode New Hudson and AJS bikes, and from 1931-1937 he was part of the Norton team. His first national victories came in 1926 and 1927 at the Scottish Speed Championships at St Andrews. For the next ten years he would become one of the greatest motorcycle racers in Europe. In 1930 he achieved his first of six Isle of Man TT titles, winning the Lightweight Race title on an AJS; in 1934 he won the Junior and Senior race.

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