African Adventures of a Harlepool Teenager

This is a story about my father, Tom Guthrie.  It was  originally published in the English newspaper, The Northern Daily Mail in 1958,  34 years after he left that town as a teenager.  It is photocopied on an A3 size sheet of paper, and was republished last year on Tuesday December 9th 2014, in what is now called the Hartlepool Mail, under the section "Memory Lane - Family Roots" with an update on his story, and a request for more information about his life.   My cousin Carole Marjoram who lives in Casterton in the UK sent it to me a couple of weeks ago, after one of my infrequent calls to keep in touch.


Tom Guthrie left his native town of West Hartlepool 34 years ago as a 14 year old with driving ambition that he defined simply but clearly as "getting on  in the world".

His adventurous ambitions led him first to a 17 shillings and 6 pence a week job in a London hotel and later to Cape Town where he arrived without a penny and without a job.

Today, Mr. Guthrie, now in West Hartlepool on a visit to his mother, is an assistant engineer of a South African copper mining company.  He has a salary of more than three thousand pounds sterling a year.  His ambitions have indeed been realised, and he lives with his West Hartlepool-born wife and their three children in a palatial bungalow at Bancroft, Northern Rhodesia.

Mr. Guthrie, who was educated at St. ....." and here the newspaper cutting sadly ends.  There is a photograph of my handsome young father with a pencil line moustache, wearing a shirt, jacket and tie with the tagline "A MAN OF ADVENTURE:  Tom Guthrie who swapped West Hartlepool as a teenager for a chance to find himself in Africa."  

The main headline story is:


How the times have changed.   When Tom Guthrie left his home in Hartlepool to see the world, he was only 14 and he was determined to have an African adventure.   Thirty four years later, he returned to Hartlepool to tell his story in 1958.   We're hoping people can help us find out more about him.

"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 Cape Town in South Africa, where as the Northern Daily reported at the time, he 'arrived without a penny and without a job.'   In 1958, he returned briefly to town to tell our reporter that 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 twelve pounds sterling 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 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 


I plan on writing and letting them know about my Dad's 'later life', and will post it here. 







Sandra GroomComment