Motorcycle ace Jimmie Guthrie was born in Wilton, Hawick, in the Scottish borders on 23 May 1897, at 5 Rosevale Cottage. Early in his life he saw action in The Great War, being wounded at Gallipoli. He also fought at Jaffa and Jerusalem before becoming a dispatch rider for his regiment in France. Returning home with a passion for motorcycles Jimmie soon began competing in local events, where his undoubted talent brought much success.
In 1927 Jimmie made his first trip to the Isle of Man for the annual Tourist Trophy races. Over the course of the next decade Jimmie's performances on the island would secure his place in motorcycling history as one of the greats. His first TT win came in 1930 on an AJS, followed by five more, all on Nortons. In an extraordinary career, Jimmie also claimed the European Championship in 1935, numerous Grand Prix wins and several speed records set at the Montlhery circuit in France.
For the 1937 German GP, held at the Sachsenring on 8th August, Jimmie was riding a 500 cc Norton, for who he was a works rider. The 500 race was the last event of the day and there was a crowd of around 250,000 people to witness it. Jimmie lined up his number 86 motorcycle on the front row along with Ley (BMW), Mansfeld (DKW) and Gall (BMW).
On the fourth lap Guthrie took the lead from Ley and established a large gap over the other competitors. Starting the last lap he had a two minute lead, and the Union Jack was already being prepared to be hoisted; however, Gall came through first. Jimmie had crashed and was severely injured. The crowd was shocked as Guthrie was a huge favourite even in Germany. He died later that day.
Several theories were put forward as to the cause for the accident, none conclusive. An interesting twist came in 1992 when Stanley Woods, an old team-mate of Guthrie's, spoke for the first time about the crash:
"I am prepared to go on oath that Guthrie was fouled. I saw the accident because I was coasting to a halt with a broken petrol pipe. Two riders passed me, a German and Guthrie. It was just before a downhill right-hander which Jimmie took flat out. The German knew Guthrie was right behind him, for he'd been there for some time. But the German couldn't take it flat out, slackened, and pulled into Jimmie's path, forcing him off the road into a line of saplings. He ended up in the foot of a ditch. I was the first to reach him and could see that he was in a desperately bad way. Both legs and an arm were broken. But he had no head injuries. I don't think he knew he was dying. I went in the ambulance with him to the hospital, but the roads were choked and it took two hours. After 20 minutes or so, the surgeon came out and said that they'd revived him momentarily, but that he had died. You can imagine how I felt. We'd been friends, team-mates and rivals for ten years. I was shattered."
There are three memorial sites dedicated to Guthrie. One is on the mountain on the Isle of Man, at the point where he retired from his final TT - a race in which he participated between 1923 and 1937. This memorial was paid for by public subscription and, on a clear day, one can see Scotland from it. Another public subscription paid for a statue of him which was erected in 1939 in Wilton Park, Hawick. A recent addition to the park is a statue of Steve Hislop, also a Hawick resident. Hislop died in a helicopter crash in 2003 and the statues of these two great riders stand facing each other. At the nearby museum there is also a Jimmie Guthrie exhibition with artifacts and three of his motorcycles. The Germans also paid for a memorial to Guthrie at the site of his accident; it was erected in 1949 and it is still immaculately kept. It is known as the Guthrie Stone.
There was also another interesting tribute to him. After his death German dictator Adolf Hitler - apparently a big fan of the Norton rider - presented Jimmie's mechanic with a brass statue of Mercury. It appears that this object is currently in the possession of Knockhill racing circuit in Scotland where it is used as the trophy for the 600 cc class.
Jimmie Guthrie, Hawick's Racing Legend (Hawick Archaeological Society, 1997)
Jimmie Guthrie Exhibition, Hawick Museum