MEMORY LANE: African adventures of a Hartlepool teenager

Tom Guthrie's African adventure made the headlines in the Northern Daily Mail
Tom Guthrie's African adventure made the headlines in the Northern Daily Mail

BARELY into his teenage years, Tom Guthrie wanted to see the world.

He left West Hartlepool with a simple aim - of getting on in life and making something of himself.

Within days, he was doing well in London and earning 17 shillings and six pence a week by working in a hotel.

Then, he set off for Capetown in South Africa where, as the Northern Daily Mail reported at the time, he “arrived without a penny and without a job”.

In 1958, he returned briefly to town to tell our reporter he was living in a “palatial bungalow at Bancroft in Northern Rhodesia”.

It was quite a transformation for a man who was raised in Mozart Street in Hartlepool and who went to St Joseph’s School.

His life in South Africa was with his wife Vera, ironically also formerly from West Hartlepool, and their three children Susan, then 14, Sandra, nine, and Ian, aged two.

His father was the late Robert Guthrie who founded the West Hartlepool mineral water firm of Fred Guthrie Ltd.

Tom was serving in the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in France and Belgium in the Second World War when he heard glowing reports of the hospitality offered to anyone going to South Africa.

He decided to check it out for himself and, after a ropey start, soon found good fortune.

As soon as he was demobbed, he headed for South Africa and arrived in Cape Town.

The next morning, he walked from Cape Town to Claremont - an eight-mile journey - as he looked for work and a place to live.

All he found was someone who would put him up for the night for £12 a month and one meal a day.

A day later, he walked eight miles back to Cape Town and got a job with a man called Victor Proctor who later hit the world headlines for his attempt to complete the longest journey by motor cycle.

Tom’s work for the next few years was in engineering before he joined the Bancroft Copper Mining Company in Northern Rhodesia where he became an assistant engineer.

It was an interesting time - especially when he found the footprints of three lions in his garden.

But tragedy almost struck in November 1958.

A violent movement of tons of mud left 37 men trapped. Our 1958 report said: “He worked frantically for four hours before he freed himself. He then gave his help for the next 36 hours in the task of freeing the others.”

It won him a letter of commendation for his actions from the directors of the company.

We would love to know more about Tom and his later life.

Give us a call if you can help.

Contact Chris Cordner either by phoning (01429) 239377 or emailing