Sir A McA Kennedy

I was told stories about Sir A McA Kennedy by one of the older members when I was writing the club history in the 1980’s: founder member from Dumbarton, President, great speaker, chairman, organiser, patron, etc, etc.   When he first appears in the club records he is referred to as Mr A McA Kennedy, the knighthood not being conferred upon him until 1921.   Born in Dumbarton in 1860 he was one of seven children of a master house joiner who rose to become president of the Ship Builders Federation and Chairman of Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Firm Ltd, Glasgow.

He is first mentioned in the club handbook of 1887/88 (ie for season ‘86/’87) as an ordinary member who had won no prizes anywhere for anything.   His organising talent must have been obvious for in season 1889/90 at the age of 29 he was president.   He must have been effective for by 1890/91 he was not only club president but also a member of the club football committee and a representative to the Scottish Cross Country Union.    After two years as president he reverted to being an ordinary member of the Dumbartonshire Section in 1891/92, 1892/93, 1893/94, 1894/95, 1895/96, 1896/97, 1897/98, 1898/99 and 1899/1900.   He is also listed as a patron of the County Section from 1898 before being elected as one of the Club Patrons (as distinct from the Dumbartonshire Section Patron) at the AGM in September 1926 and he held the position for several years thereafter.  Sir Alexander’s active participation in club affairs diminished as his business became more and more demanding (see below just how demanding!) but the link with the club was maintained.   The club Minute for 21/1/21 said “Congratulations to AM Kennedy:   A letter of congratulations was sent to AM Kennedy a former President of the club, on the occasion of his being knighted and Mr Lamond read Sir AM Kennedy’s reply.”

‘Who Was Who 1929 -1940’ listed his principal achievements as follows:

“Chairman of William Duxford & Sons, Ltd, Sunderland;

Chairman of Shipbuilders Investments Co Ltd;

Director of  Sea Insurance Co Ltd (Glasgow Branch);

Ex-President of the Shipbuilding Employers Federation;

Chairman of the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Ltd, Govan;

Member of Committee of Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, etc.

The “etc” is not mine – the WWW is responsible.

Starting from small beginnings he became a captain of industry.   His first job was as an apprentice in Archibald MacMillan & Sons Ltd which was a Dumbarton shipbuilding firm.    I quote from his obituary in ‘The Lennox Herald’ which contained much more detail:

 “He made rapid progress in his practical work as well as in his naval architecture studies and at the age of 19 obtained at the South Kensington Institute of Science a first class degree in naval architecture.   Three years later he secured a First Class Diploma with Honours in naval architecture and took fifth position among candidates from all over the United Kingdom.   Through successive and lightning promotions he became the General Manager of the Fairfield Company at the early age of 31 and five years later was appointed Director.   In 1904 at a time when it seemed probable that he would become Provost of Dumbarton, Sir Alexander crossed to the south side of the river to become a managing director of William Hamilton & Co, Ltd, Port Glasgow where he further enhanced his reputation as a shipbuilder of unusual ability………. At the end of the War he decided to retire from Messrs Hamilton’s but for some time thereafter he occupied positions of great responsibility in the industry.   The year 1919 marked the beginning of the most remarkable period of his outstanding career.   It was then that he accepted the post of managing director of the Northumberland Shipbuilding Co, Ltd, Howdon on Tyne, a concern which under his control rapidly became one of the most successful in British shipbuilding.   While retaining his position on the Tyne, he became managing director of the Fairfield Company on the Clyde and of William Duxford & Sons, Ltd, on the Wear.   In 1920 he rose to the highest office of the industry – President of the Shipbuilding Employers Federation – and in that capacity revealed wise and sound leadership in an exceedingly difficult period………He was a member of the Institution of Naval Architects and of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland.  For two years he was president of the Clyde Shipbuilders Association.   His services were utilised by Lloyd’s Register Technical Committee and the British Engineering Standards Association”   And so on and on.   The list of his achievements is both lengthy and impressive but there is one other paragraph that should maybe be noted: In his earlier days Sir Alexander was keenly interested in athletics and sport.   He was at one time president of the Scottish Football Association, President of the Clydesdale Harriers, member of the Executive Committee of the Scottish Amateur Athletic Association and hon secretary of the Dumbarton Arts Club.”   He was also a very active member of the local community in Dumbarton serving on the education committee in particular.    “The best public work of the deceased was done in the sphere of education.   His chairmanship of the School Board here is still remembered.   There was a council of three who practically directed the educational affairs of the town and that with no little success for a Burgh Board.   The new Academy was their scheme; and their administrative success was the system of technical or evening continuation instruction which was set up in Dumbarton linking the school with local industry.   His Majesty’s Inspector often commented on this side of the work in Dumbarton especially when it was merged into courses of study and correlated with the Technical College in Glasgow.”  

This was at the time when the Clyde really did lead the world in ship building with Denny of Dumbarton and John Brown’s of Clydebank among the leading pioneering yards.

 Clearly a man of energy, intelligence and vision and one that Clydesdale Harriers was lucky to have as a member and it is possible to see why he was president in 1890 at the age of 30. 

The Top Table at the Diamond Jubilee Dinner in 1935: John Kirkland, Sir A Kennedy and A Ross Scott in the Middle.

Fifteen years later he was Chairman at the club’s coming of age Dinner in March 1906 in the Large Saloon of the Grosvenor Hotel in Glasgow.   The menu of Whitstable Natives, Consommé a la Royale or Crème de la Reine, Fillet of Whiting aux Fines Herbes or Turbot au Gratin and Sweetbreads a la Clydesdale was served as well as to members past and present, to all club Presidents from 1890, President and Vice President of the SAAA, Secretary and Treasurer of the Cross Country Union, President of the Cyclists Union, Baillies and civic dignitaries from Glasgow and stars from the 21 years of the club’s history.

The link between club and industrialist was maintained and in an article entitled ‘First Harrier Club in Scotland – Clydesdale’s Claim to Fame’ in the ‘Evening Times of 29th October 1929 the writer under the pseudonym of ‘Pistol’ said: “It was in January 1885 that the Clydesdale Harriers club was instituted.   It took its name from the Clydesdale Rowing Club.   Four years ago Clydesdale celebrated its 40th Anniversary in the Bank Restaurant, Queen Street, Glasgow and on that momentous occasion Patron Sir A McA Kennedy a notable personality in the shipbuilding world occupied the Chair.   He referred to the efforts of Mr Charles Pennycook to bring together all the available founders of the movement.”  

We jump forward four years when it was clear that his relationship with Charles Pennycook must have been strong and continuing.   In the club minute for 2nd April 1928 had the following entry: “It was reported that a former president, Sir A.M. Kennedy was seriously ill.   It was agreed to send a letter of sympathy.”     The minute for 28th April had the following: “Sir A.M. Kennedy: The President had received  a letter from  Mr C. Pennycook thanking the club for the interest taken in Sir A.M. Kennedy’s health; the said gentleman being in the very best of health.”    The relationship was a continuing affair.

Having been Chairman at the twenty first anniversary and fortieth anniversary dinners, it was natural for him to be asked to be Chairman at the club’s 50th Anniversary Dinner at the Grand Hotel in Glasgow.   It was a very big affair with many of the former champions present including Andrew Hannah, Jack Paterson and Sam Stevenson, officials like A Ross Scott, Presidents from the SAAA and NCCU and civic dignitaries such as  Provost Smart of Clydebank.    It was quite a record – President in 1890, Chairman at the 21st Anniversary Dinner, Chairman at the 40th Anniversary Dinner and at the 50th as well.  

 The relationship with club was clearly encouraged on both sides over the years.   Having men such as Sir Alexander on the books in any capacity, the club was keeping in contact with significant figures in the Community who might or might not be useful at some point.  It also added to their belief in the importance of their Club.    His personal relationship with Chas. Pennycook seems to have been a continuing relationship and there is no reason to suppose that his friendship with characters such as Andrew Hannah and Willie Maley would have been any different.   From the club’s point of view the association with the great and the good was always to be welcomed.   When he died in 1939 it was recorded in the club Minute of 6th February 1939 as follows: “Death of a Patron: We regret to minute the death of Sir A.M. Kennedy who had been Patron and Past President of the club.   A telegram of sympathy had been sent to Lady Kennedy.”

 It seems to me that he was more than just a Patron.

Hans Noble

Hans Noble with David Bowman on the right.

Meeting of Committee held in Educational Rooms, 1st February 1946.

Members Present: T Millar, T Tait, H King, C Middler, D MacDonald, D Bowman, D Scott, J Gray, J Shields, A MacMillan, d H Noble (Coach)

Cyril O’Boyle was not the first top class Irish athlete to run for Clydesdale Harriers – Hans Noble had that honour.   He was an Irish International cross country runner who came to Scotland to work on the ‘Empress of Britain’, a liner being built at John Brown’s Shipyard in the mid 1920’s, and immediately joined up with the club. 

He was clearly a class athlete and raced frequently for and within the club.   He probably joined the club in mid or late 1929 – the club minutes of the day were unique in that only said that there were ’17 new members’ (27/11/28), 4 new members (9/1/28) and so on. The report in the minute book of the time on the club championship in January 1929 reported “The event of the season from the club point of view was contested o’er the historic soil of Erskine (on this occasion a trifle muddier than usual) the distance being slightly less than the usual 7 miles.   H Noble proved a worthy winner in the excellent time of 40 minutes 35 seconds while W Chalk was second 12 seconds behind Noble and J McShane third in 4:32.   Truly as close a finish as might be desired.’   (The secretary at the time was often quite poetic in his reporting using words like o’er and ‘twas fairly often.)   The same minute had the following remarks from President McNamara further through: “Mr J McNamara paid tribute to the admirable team spirit and the conscientiousness displayed by H Noble in training.   The club was fortunate in having such a leader for their West District Team.”      The team was duly chosen and the minute for the meeting on 4th March 1929 (below) had reports on both District and National Championships. 

“W.D. Championships

Clydesdale gained tenth position in this race which is one place better than last year.   The counting six were Noble 17th, T McAuley 33rd, S Davidson 78th, W Scott 79th, W Chalk 102nd, J McShane 104th.”

 National Championships

Clydesdale fifteenth in this event.   This was quite a good performance in the circumstances when one considers the nature of the opposition and the fact that some of our best runners were not available.   Placings:   H Noble 29th, W Scott 48th, G McQuattie 86th, J Gray 109th, C Middler 110th, M Logie 115th.”

 Then in the Minute of 2nd April 1929 under the Heading ‘Balloch – Clydebank’ is the report: “From the grande finale to the cross country season, H Noble again emerged the victor.   Not only did he win the race, he also established a new record for the course.   1.   H Noble  65:45;   2.   T McAuley   66:10;   3.   W Scott   67:07.”

 He had been elected to the Committee at the AGM in 1929 but when it came to the club committee meeting in January 1930, there were two vacancies to be filled.   They were caused by the departure of H Noble and J Sleeth.   They were both Irish and both were going home with the job at Brown’s done.   It was a blow to the club after the fine running he had been doing and the leadership that Hans had been said to have shown. 

He went back home to Ireland and three years later in March 1933 he was selected to run for Ireland in the International Cross Country International in Caerleon in Wales.   He continued running and returned to Clydebank four and a half years after leaving.  

Back in Scotland to work on Job Number 534, which was to become the Queen Mary, he rejoined the club in September 1934 – it was the custom at the time for members leaving the District to resign from the club or be liable for the next year’s subscription.  Anyone leaving the District was required to give notice of this and resign their membership.   It seems a strange custom to us but that was the rule in most clubs at the time.   This time he stayed in Clydebank, worked as a draftsman in John Brown’s, ran for the club and became the official club coach.   He was welcomed with open arms.   The ‘Clydebank Press’ of 14th September 1934 reported on the club AGM and started the report as follows: “There was a good attendance of the club at this important meeting.   President John Kirkland occupied the chair and in the course of his remarks he said it was pleasing to see so many old faces and gratifying to see the new.   He especially welcomed Hans Noble the ex club champion.”

 However if anyone was expecting him to race immediately at the top level, they were destined to be disappointed.   He turned out to start with in the odd inter club run almost immediately and there is a report of him running in one early in October.   However pressure of work prevented him from training as he would have liked and he was more active in advising other athletes and in Committee work until the winter of 1936/37.    He did not take part in club races or race in District or National Championships although he was mentioned as taking part in inter club runs and being ‘prominent’ in the pack on occasion.  

He was elected back on to the Committee at the AGM in September 1936 and at the first Committee Meeting was persuaded to go on to the Handicapping Committee as well.   Came the club championship in January 1937, Hans won from Charlie Middler with Tommy Sinclair in third place.   He then devoted most of his energies to coaching and, when he lost his place on the Committee at the 1937 AGM, Dan McDonald suggested that he be made a member of the Handicap Committee.   This was agreed to but he was ‘allowed’ to attend their meetings ‘in an advisory capacity.’   This is the first time that any club member is referred to as a coach: heretofore there had been many in charge of  club training but they had all been referred to as ‘trainers’ – Mr Stewart,   Mr Ballantine, Willie Wright and others had worked with varying degrees of success training the senior men.   They had also been masseurs and the club paid for their massage tables, flannels and even on occasion flesh gloves – the runners however had to provide their own massage oil.   They had been first aid men with the club supplying an ‘Ambulance Box’ for their use and had even been unqualified physiotherapists.   When Willie Wright began working with Duntocher Hibs FC he said that he would be willing to give treatment to any Clydesdale Harrier who needed it.   Hans, however, was the first to be described as ‘coach’.    He was first so described in the club minutes in 1936 and had the description applied after the war as well when his appearance at Committee Meetings was followed by the word ‘coach’ in brackets: note the extract at the start.   He ran, acted as coach and like all good Clydesdale Harriers recruited runners on behalf of the club.

He was reputed to be a very good coach and the word was next applied to Bobby Boyd who took over the post in 1947/48.   There is no note in the Minutes of his departure but he returned to Ireland at the end of the 1940’s and the club lost a good man, coach and role model for younger athletes.


Bobby Boyd

Bobby Boyd joined the club in season 1939-40 just as the war was starting and went on to be one of the best (and most unlucky) athletes ever to wear the club vest.   Winning races at county and district level, he would have run more than five Edinburgh to Glasgow Relays had it not been for the intervening war years and a series of injuries. 

One of four siblings Bobby was born in Duntocher in 1921 and his first sport was boxing.   He took it up as a hobby and as a means of self defence and although he never reached any great heights as a boxer he was often sparring partner to good class Scottish boxers, notably Tommy McGlinchy who fought the great Benny Lynch.   He always loved the country, hiking and camping and joined the Harriers just before war broke out.    The War started and every factory in the country was put on war production.    Sixty percent of all naval tonnage produced at the time came from the River Clyde and the Singer Sewing Machine factory had eighteen thousand workers turning out machine guns.     By trade at the time Bobby was a Die Sinker which was considered vital to the war effort and he could not initially get permission to join the military.   Eventually his persistence won the day and he was able to join the Air Force.    It was near the end of hostilities and the RAF did not need any more pilots but he became a navigator/bomb aimer.    Always clever he passed all the exams quickly enough but being stationed in Britain never saw action.    He did have a lot of time to train however and he represented his unit in various One Mile races.    At one point he was in charge of a group of German prisoners of war and saw to it that they all took part in his training regimen.    He developed a problem with the cartilage in his knee at this time and required operations.   In 1946 this was a serious operation and he spent time in Killearn Hospital during which one leg shrunk to little more than skin and bone.    Starting from his release from hospital he began a determined training regime and a year later was winning mile races again.   As his brother Jack says, “Intense training, focus and determination were to be Bobby’s approach all through his life.”  

By 1947 he felt ready to race again and had what was certainly his best season ever between May 1947 and March 1948.

At the start of season 1946-47 he was still injured and working mainly as a coach in the club.   In this capacity he had a tremendous thirst for knowledge and attended as many coaching seminars as he could.   The main runners were George White, Pat Younger, Eric Paton, Alex Hylan and David Bowman but when he was injury free his ability shone.   The ‘Clydebank Press’ report of 31st May 1947 reported on the good results achieved by the runners under his guidance at the Bellahouston Harriers Sports at Hampden adding “To crown the afternoon Bobby himself ran a fine race to win the Mile.   The fine judgment of pace shown by our coach shows he has the capabilities of winning more races before the end of the season.”     The following week he won the same event at Shotts Highland Games, then he won the Mile at the Dunbartonshire County Championships on the Thursday (and was selected for the Inter Counties Championship in the event) and at Singer’s Sports on the Saturday he was third in the Mile off a handicap of only 50 yards.    This was three wins and a third in four races in three weeks!   Not content with that he won the Mile in the Inter Counties Championship at Helenvale Park, Glasgow.   In the Scottish Championships at Hampden, the ‘Press’ reported that he finished fifth out of 22 runners in the Mile.   A week later he was second at the Sports in Linlithgow where the track was notoriously bad.   In the club championships he won the Memorial Bowl for the club points contest with victory in the last event, the Three Miles: he had 30 points with Jim Young second on 28 and George White on 20.  

With the summer season finished, he was commended by the President, Andy McMillan, who referred to his fine example and coaching, and elected to the position of captain.   The winter season started with the trial for the McAndrew Relay and it was won by Bobby and George White.   The ‘Press’ noted that “Training is continuing under the guidance of Mr R Boyd who has commenced classes for exercises after the runs and is receiving a good response from the members.”   In December he showed his real ability in the Midland District Relay at Motherwell.   George White ran well enough to be fourth on the first stage, Doug Scott dropped to eleventh, Jackie Higginson came up a bit to tenth before Bobby pulled up to seventh place.   One well known runner is said to have remarked that “he came through them like skittles” on what was a short hilly course but the real surprise was his time – 12:51 gave him the fastest time of the day.   He was quicker than Andy Forbes, Emmett Farrell and all the other top runners on display.   The report by Eddie Taylor in the ‘Scots Athlete’ of January 1948 said “R Boyd, Clydesdale, astounded most spectators by returning fastest time against a top notch field but his club were not surprised and with a little stronger support for Boyd and G White, Clydesdale would be ‘shaking up’ the leaders.”

The next race was the Dunbartonshire Cross Country Championship at Milngavie in January which he won by 50 yards.   Incidentally the spacing of the races was more civilised than at present and was a lot kinder to the limbs.   One week later he won the club championship for the first time defeating George White by 600 yards.   Two weeks later in February the club travelled to Pollokshaws for the Midland Championship and Bobby won that one as well to be the first Clydesdale Harrier ever to do so.   This was a real turn up for the books given the standard of athlete competing.   The report in the ‘Scots Athlete’ of February 1948 read as follows: White and Boyd (Clydesdale) with Craig (Shettleston) led the field for the first lap, and on the second circuit being completed Craig was endeavouring to shake off the longer striding Boyd, followed by Kidd (Garscube), Lennie (Vale of Leven) and White leading a group close behind and it was most striking how Garscube and Maryhill team members were ‘packing’ well up, and their finishing places are a perfect illustration of teamwork ‘par excellence’.   At the finish Boyd, striding strongly through the tape proved a worthy winner.”   The team finished fifth with George White sixth individual.

Emmett Farrell’s National preview mentioned Bobby in the following terms: “I fancy the chances of the winner emerging from the following quartette:- R Boyd (Clydesdale), A McLean (Bellahouston), JC Flockhart and G Craig (Shettleston).    Boyd, a most stylish runner, and also very fast, has made a remarkable recovery from illness and has shown outstanding form all season over both short and long stretches.  This may be his year and he has an opportunity to prove that he has adequate experience and temperament for the big occasion……”   Unfortunately he could not make it a fourth championship win to go with the club, county and district championships.   He had a real off day in the race at Ayr and could only finish thirty third with George White fifteenth and the team finishing sixth.    Emmet Farrell himself won the race, just as he had done ten years previously.   The story behind the story is that Bobby was still employed as a die sinker working with his hands and had just completed an emergency 36 hour shift immediately before this race so that he had only arrived at the venue in time to warm up.   The ‘off day’ was easily explained!

That was the end of the cross country season and James Shields reported in the ‘Clydebank Press’ as follows:  “The past cross country season is the brightest the club has enjoyed in many years.   Credit for this must go to Bobby Boyd who has filled a very difficult dual role of club captain and coach.   In addition to this Bobby set a magnificent example by having the fastest time in the Midland Relay and winning the Dunbartonshire and Midland Championship.”

The following summer he retained the Memorial Bowl for the club points contest, he won the County Three Miles championship, was first man home in the 2½  miles Round the Loch Race at Linlithgow and was third in the Glasgow Police Sports Invitation One Mile Race.   He also ran at various other distances – eg at Ibrox he ran in the 880 yards and qualified for the Final where he was unplaced.   Injuries cropped up.   At one point the ‘Press’ report said that “The Two Miles Team were without the services of R Boyd who was incapacitated”, and at another his return from another lay off was mentioned.      The incapacitation referred to was that following a work accident he had an arm in plaster up to the elbow!

The ability did not go away but injuries started to take their toll.   Initially it was not too obvious.   He had the fourth fastest time in the McAndrew Relays in October 1948 and the team, minus George White, was seventh.   In the Dunbartonshire Championships he finished second to Alex Kidd of Garscube after a hard fought race and missed the Midlands Championships.   Came the National and Emmett Farrell was still predicting that he had a chance to make the Scottish team for the International Championship.   He listed the obvious ‘picks’ and then said “A Kidd and R Boyd: Both are enthusiastic and ambitious performers and both are real triers.   Last year they both, and particularly Boyd, had an off day on National Day.   Now freed from Midland worries they should do better this year.   Kidd recently beat Boyd decisively in the Dunbartonshire Championships but in relation to the National this is not conclusive proof of superiority.   Both have to break down the mental barrier of non-success in the National.   In other words previous success gives a runner confidence that he can repeat the performance.   Both have a chance even if it is an outside one.”   However in the National Championship at Ayr he was twenty fourth and, in the absence of George White, first club man home.   He even lost the club championship after only holding it for twelve months.   The race itself was held at Ayr Racecourse and, added to the extreme cold on the day, sleet fell for the entire duration of the race.   Alex Kidd was carried from the finish exhausted and maybe suffering from slight hypothermia if eye witness reports are accurate.   He was ill for a while afterwards.    Alex Hylan, running in the Youths race, caught pneumonia and ended up in a Co-op convalescent home across the Tweed from Abbotsford.

Came season 1949/50 and he was again easily the fastest in the club being 12 seconds ahead of White in the McAndrew Relay but he was a minute slower than the fastest time.   In the County Championships on 15th October he was only the third quickest club runner behind White and Pat Younger.   He was still being described as a ‘classy runner’ but the injuries were taking a toll.   In the Midlands Relay at the end of October he was fastest club runner but a minute down on the top men.   The time table was letting him down; three races in a month are not the best treatment for any injury.   In the Midlands Championships in February 1950 he could only finish 68th which was 36 places behind George White and only one ahead of Joe Duffy.   Came the National at Hamilton and given his season up to that point no one was tipping him for the Scottish Team.   He finished 61st – one place ahead of David Bowman who would never have called himself a top cross country runner.   Bobby went on running for the club in cross country, track and road races but it was becoming clear that he would find it difficult to reach the heights of the 1947/48 season again.   

He won several of the most respected trophies in the club at a time when it was strong in middle and long distance events but none was after 1950:

The Semple Merit Award in 1948;

The Championship Challenge Cup in 1948 and 1949

The Memorial Bowl in 1947 and 1948

However unlike many top class athletes he did not walk away when injury caused him problems.   He ran whenever he could but crucially he remained club coach assisting many club runners to excellent performances: George White for instance spoke highly of Bobby’s contribution to his successes.   Jim Young came along to the club at the instigation of Hans Noble but immediately he was told to train with Bobby.   The same is true of many others.   When the club was third team in the National Cross Country Championship in 1955, a conscious decision was taken at the start of the winter season to train as a group on Mondays and Wednesdays as well as the usual club nights of Tuesday and Thursday with the Saturday run also in there.   The runners would meet at 8:00 or 8:30 pm after work and train as a group under the guidance of Bobby Boyd.   He played a big part in this club success.  

Clydesdale Harriers has had a great tradition of club runners taking part – often with great success – in the Ben Nevis Race; many of the major figures in the club contested the race including Pat Younger, Frank Kielty, David Bowman, Bobby and Jim Shields, and Ian Donald along with many who went for the run and the fun.   Bobby was among the first, if not the first, Clydesdale Harrier to take part in this supreme test.    He competed many times.   His daughter Elaine tells us that the last time they went to the Ben race, they got up at about 4:00 am to drive to Fort William.    The weather was wet and rainy and really bad.   After the race the car developed a problem that could not be fixed right away and there was not a room to be had in the Fort at that time of the year.   In the end they took a taxi from Fort William to Broughty Ferry where they were living.   She adds that his life was so full of sport that he spent most of his free time when not at work either running, golfing, watching athletics on TV, training people, swimming, etc.

Another initiative that he started was the long Sunday walk which had formerly been a major part of training but which had fallen by the wayside.   Where Jock Semple and the runners of the twenties had walked round the Three Lochs on one occasion and usually did some long Sunday walk, Bobby had Frank McKay, Jim Young, George White, Willie Howie, including at times his brother Jack Boyd and others go over the Moors to Carbeth and back.   Sometimes they walked over the Kilpatrick Hills and there was often a wee ‘burn up’ up Duncolm (the highest top in the hills) where Frank MacKay (“with his chunky powerful wee calves!”) was the man to beat!  One of the favourite walks started with them meeting up at the Hardgate Cross about 9:00 am.   They then headed off across the moors (there was no Faifley Housing Scheme at the time so it was straight on to the open country.   Then it was over Milngavie Golf Course and on to a farm where they bought milk and scones before returning home.    As well as adding to the general fitness level it helped build team spirit and identification with each other and the club.   Nowadays they would call it a bonding exercise!   At times when something important was coming up, this became Sunday training at Mountblow with the runners doing repetitions of distances up to 600 metres under his supervision.  

On a walk over the Moors:

Bobby, George Haddow, George White, Jim Young, Frank MacKay, Jackie Higginson

Wherever he was when away from Clydebank and the Harriers, he kept to his own fitness regime.   His daughter tells us that he always went for a ten mile run on Sundays – if possible in the hills.   In Dundee he ran in the Sidlaw Hills, in Largs when they were staying with her grandparents whose front garden had a view of the hills they would wait for him to get to the top and wave down to them, in Stonehaven he did ten one mile laps of Mineralwell Park which he had measured to be exactly one mile.    Like Dunky Wright, he didn’t see fitness as a duty but as a pleasure.

Like all the others at the time, he did what his club needed him to do.   He was a valued Committee Member and although he never held any of the three big offices of President, Secretary or Treasurer he did serve as club captain and his counsel was always well received.    He also encouraged others to come to Committee Meetings.   One club man said that when Bobby asked him to come along he wondered what he could contribute but he realised after not too long that he was able to work on the Committee.   Eventually that man became club president.  

Away from the club he had been a departmental manager in the huge Singer factory and had a short spell in the United States in the 1950’s.   While there he had the idea of running up the Empire State Building stairs, so he went along in his running gear, explained to the guard that he had run up Ben Nevis and what he wanted to do.   The guard just put his hand on his holster and said that he would have to pay like everyone else!      His daughter Elaine, now living in Australia, says he was equally dedicated to his work and could remember holidays being cut short because he was itching to get back to make sure that everything was OK.  

He returned and finally settling in Stonehaven near Aberdeen.   When he was there he started training the ATC lads in the park and fostered an interest in athletics with some of them going on to competitive sport.   The boys all loved him.   He was interested in all kinds of sport but golf became a favourite with him too.   He played every weekend and more often after he retired.   However the many years of bone grinding on bone after his cartilage had been removed had its effect and Bobby had to have a knee replaced.   The surgery went well and he assiduously exercised the knee until he could ride a bicycle.  He did this in place of running but with the same enthusiasm.    He lived at the top of a hill in Stonehaven and used to ride the bike down to the shop, pick up what he wanted and push the bike home up the hill with the shopping hanging on the cross bar.   His friends used to accuse him of using the bike as a Zimmer!   He had been diagnosed as having Parkinson’s disease at the age of 70.   This inevitably restricted his lifestyle but he had always possessed a good singing voice and he used it to sing ‘for the old folks’ in various groups, such as the Alzheimer’s patients, around Stonehaven while holding on to the back of a chair to disguise the tremors Parkinson’s inflicted on his hands.   He never felt sorry for himself – brother Jack tells of him saying on the phone that he was the luckiest guy in the world and meaning it.     He kept up the regular exercising and then when Jack found some exercises for people with Parkinson’s on the internet, Bobby immediately incorporated them into his exercise regime. It was there in Aberdeen that he died on 15th September 2002 at the age of 81 of a massive stroke after battling the disease for almost 30 years.

Bobby at 73 years of age

Runner, coach and committee man, Bobby filled them all admirably.  Like many of the best men he always found time to contribute to the local community – look at the work with the ATC in Stonehaven for instance He was popular with all the local Dunbartonshire and Glasgow clubs and with the individual athletes in them but his tremendous influence on Clydesdale Harriers in the post war period was incalculable and he is still spoken of by all who knew him – and by some who only knew him by repute.

From the ‘Scots Athlete’ magazine of March, 1948

Douglas Gemmell

Douglas at the Jack Crawford Memorial Race

13th January 1996

Douglas joined the club at the end of 1964 when a pupil at Clydebank High School.  He had run for the local Fontana Youth Club in the County Youth Sports and was approached by two senior Clydesdale  members and invited along to training.   He proved to be a very talented runner at all endurance events whether on the track, road or over the country where he was selected on several occasions to represent Scottish select teams.   This talent was seen initially in club championships where he won track and cross country titles as an Under 17 and Under 20 in the mid sixties.   The Dugald Cameron Shield for the Junior Men’s Championship was won in both 1965-66 and 1966-67 and it was not the first of the club’s coveted trophies he was to pick up.   He won a total of seven trophies on ten occasions over a ten year period when the club was very strong in his events.   There were of course many minor placings in these events as well.    It is however his career as a senior athlete that we will be examining here.

He had a good record in club championships at a time when the club had a large number of able and competitive athletes in his events.   He won the Sinclair Trophy for the road race championship in 1968 and 1969; the Harold Wright Cup for the first club runner home in the National in 1971 and the Dunbartonshire Cup for the first club runner in the Balloch-Clydebank 12 Miles Road Race; The Hannah Cup for fastest time in the cross country Handicap in 1973 and 1977; the Dan McDonald Cup for the highest points total in championship races (county, district and national championships and relays) in 1973 and 1977; the Semple Merit Award for the outstanding performance in the winter season in 1974 and the Challenge Cup for the club cross country championship in 1977.

Outwith championship races, Douglas ran in the Edinburgh – Glasgow Relay on no fewer than seventeen occasions, sixteen of them in succession, with the first being in 1965.   His career went from the early 60’s into the ‘80s with a comeback in the mid 90’s.   It would be impossible to cover every race, every year for that time so I would like to look at his record in championship races over the period.   This will include club championships as well as county, district and national relays and championships as well of course as the Edinburgh to Glasgow.   His medal haul was very impressive with gold, silver and bronze individual and team medals all in his display cabinet.   We can look at District Championships first, then County and then the Edinburgh – Glasgow in some detail and also look at one year to see the pattern of races.

In the District Championships it had long been an ambition of the club to win the Maley Trophy for the winning team – this was clearly stated before the 1914 War in the club handbook at a time when the club was winning almost everything it could in the country.   The ambition was achieved in 1973 and it was Douglas who led the team home with an excellent run finishing in fourth place.  Although he was actually fourth, he was awarded the third place medal since David McMeekin of Victoria Park who had been third was awarded the first Junior (Under 20) medal.   The pleasure for the club was increased because the huge trophy presented to the winning team had been donated by Willie Maley who won the Scottish 100 yards championship in 1906 in Clydesdale colours.   This was not of course his first run in the event – that had been some time earlier.   That was in 1966/67 in fact when the team was sixth and he was thirty ninth individual, second club counter behind Ian Donald who was in tenth place.   He did not contest the event the following year but then a year later was third counter behind Ian Leggett (fourth) and Ian Donald (twelfth) when he finished twentieth and gain his first medal in the event when the team was third.   Missing the 1969/70 event, he led the team into third place in 1970/71 when he was twenty sixth.   In 1971/72 the team was second and then in 1972/73 came the moment that the club had waited almost seventy years for.   The team was second again in ‘74/’75 but no awards were won for three years until 1979 when the team was second without his participation.   The race was won again in 1980 over the rolling countryside of the Park and Golf Course at Dalmuir in Clydebank and the team was Phil Dolan tenth, George Carlin fourteenth, Gary Millar fifteenth, Douglas McDonald seventeenth, Robert McWatt twenty ninth and John MacKay thirty seventh.    Gold, silver and bronze in the District Championships were his as was the honour of being the man to lead the club to its first ever team win in the event is a proud record.

  In the County Relays and Championships his record is even better.   In 1967/68 he was a member of the team that was second in the championships and the following year went one better with second team in the relays and winners in the championships.   In 69/70 it was first team in the relays and in the championships and this pattern was repeated the following year.   In 70/71 it was first in the relays and second in the championships and in 1971/72 there were two firsts.   Douglas was a fixture in all these teams and had bronze, four silver and five gold medals from the ten events.   Ian Leggett was also an ever present and Ian Donald only missed one race with Bobby Shields, Allan Faulds, Cyril O’Boyle and Pat Younger all sharing in the successes.   The run of successes for this extended period was unparalleled in the club’s history with the top four changing from time to time – initially it was Ian Donald, Ian Leggett and Douglas with Bobby Shields and Sandy MacNeil making up the team.   Then for the three years of Allan Faulds’ membership it was a settled quartet of Douglas, Phil Dolan, Allan Faulds and Ian Donald then when Allan left the district and Ian’s illness seriously affected his running Robert McWatt, George Carlin and Gary Millar came into the team but the one man who was in all the teams in all the races below was Douglas.   In 1976 he won the title over a frozen and rutted course at Braidfield Farm in Clydebank.   The team record in the ‘Gemmell Years’ was as follows – 16 gold medals, 5 silver medals and 1 bronze summarised in the table below.


  67/8 68/9 69/70 70/1 71/2 72/3 73/4 74/5 75/6 76/7 77/8 78/9
Relays 2 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1
Champs 2 1 1 2 1 1 2 1 3 1 1 1

In the National Championships he also progressed steadily – although no medals were won at this level there were some notable team performances with fifth in 1970 being the best.    In 1971 he was first club finisher when he was twenty sixth with Allan Faulds fortieth and Ian Donald fifty second.


At this time the club was very strong and it might be appropriate to look at 1969 as a fairly typical year at this point.   He started the year with a good run in the Nigel Barge Road Race where the club was third behind Shettleston Harriers and Edinburgh Athletic Club.   Ian Donald was twentieth, Ian Leggett twenty second and Douglas twenty fourth in a field of 164 finishers over the tough traditional classic trail.   A week later in the club Hannah Cup Cross Country Handicap Race he finished second in 35:25 – the third fastest time of the day behind Ian Donald’s 34:01 and Ian Leggett’s 35:00 and then the following week the club was fifth in the Midland District Championship at Bellahouston with Douglas in twentieth position the third club finisher again behind Ian Leggett in fourth place and Ian Donald in twelfth.   By the time February came along he was third club man in the Inter Counties championship with Ian Leggett second, Ian Donald twelfth and Douglas twentieth – almost an exact re-run of the Midland District placings.   The club championships were held and again the finishing order was Ian Donald, Ian Leggett and Douglas in third place.   He was running extremely well but still finishing third behind two excellent athletes on almost every race.   He had a quiet period, missing the National Championships after injuring his back in a rather bizarre way – he injured it boarding the bus to the race which was held at Duddingston in Edinburgh.   He also missed the early season road races but in the club track Three Miles Championship the first three were Ian Donald in 15:04, Ian Leggett in 15:08 and Douglas Gemmell in 15:35.   In the 800 metres championship two weeks later the result was Douglas first, Ian Donald second and Sandy MacNeil third.   The first serious championships of the summer were the West District Championships at Westerlands in which he was sixth in 15:27.      At the start of July in the Glasgow Transport Sports he was second club counter in the 3000 metres team race in 8:59 behind Ian Leggett (8:50) and in front of Ian Donald (9:03).   At the end of the month he led the Two Miles team home in the Gourock Highland Games when he was eighth with Brian McAusland ninth and Phil Dolan twelfth.   Ian Leggett was third in the 14 miles road race at the same meeting and Ian Donald was winning the Half Ben Nevis Race at Fort William on the same afternoon.      At the start of August in the Strathallan Meeting he was third in the One Mile Handicap with Brian McAusland the only other club runner fifth.   Later in the month there was an inter club against Springburn Harriers at Bishopbriggs and Douglas won the One Mile from Junior International Cross Country runner Eddie Knox.  


These were all helping sharpen him up for the cross country season and he began by finishing second to Ian Leggett in the club trial to select the team for the McAndrew Relay but ahead of Ian Donald.   In the McAndrew Relay itself two weeks later he was a member of the first team which finished sixth and although third fastest he was much closer than before: Ian Leggett was fourth on the first stage in 14:27; Douglas held fourth on the second stage in 14:28, Phil Dolan dropped to tenth in 15:43 and Ian Donald pulled the team back to sixth with 14:30.   Three seconds covered the first three times.   Things were not so close the following week when the club won the County Relays.   Bobby Shields (who had been twenty seconds faster than Phil the previous week was promoted to the first team)  ran first in 16:01, Ian Leggett second in 14:58, Douglas Gemmell next in 15:30 and Ian Donald in 15:13 brought the team home.   At the end of October the club Sinclair Trophy race was held and Douglas proved the winner in 29:46 beating Ian Leggett by 29 seconds.   On the first of November the team went to Bellshill for the Midlands Relays and Douglas was second fastest club man in the team which placed fourth – Ian Leggett was fastest club man with Douglas two seconds quicker than Ian Donald.   The big race was as ever the Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay on the third Sunday in November and Douglas ran a good second stage – usually reckoned to be the most difficult – to bring the team which finished eleventh up two places from the thirteenth of the first leg to eleventh.   In the County Championships at the start of December club runners were third, fourth and fifth with Ian Donald third, Ian Leggett fourth and Douglas fifth.

The second half of the winter season started with the Nigel Barge Road Race at Maryhill and Douglas was seventeenth in 23:33 with Brian McAusland (43rd) and Pat Younger the only other club runners.   The club was strengthened quite dramatically in January 1970 when Allan Faulds joined.   Allan was the kind of runner who always joined the local club, always gave it 100% effort and brought real hardness and determination with him.   Just when everyone was expecting Ian Leggett or Douglas to win the championship because Ian Donald’s from had slipped a bit from the five years when he was virtually unbeatable in the club, along came Allan with his determination and he won the championship not just in 1970 but also in ’71 and ’72.

A measure of his quality over a long period could be had by looking at his performances in the Edinburgh to Glasgow over the eighteen year period when he raced in it.   The E-G, as it was known, was an eight stage relay which was entered by invitation only and was limited to the top twenty clubs in the country.   The toughest of eight tough stages were usually reckoned to be, in order, (1) the second six mile stage where all the big names were turned out by their clubs and was the most feared of all, (2) the seven mile sixth stage where the standard of runners was also high, (3) the fourth stage of five plus miles was also usually populated with athletes of a very high standard and (4) then the first stage had a huge amount of responsibility.  His speciality stage however was the second where he faced such as Olympians Fergus Murray and Ian Stewart, Commonwealth marathon winner Jim Alder, Commonwealth 10000 metres champion Lachie Stewart, Olympic fourth placer Frank Clement, four minute miler Lawrie Spence, and many other top men: he looked at home in their company and often ran faster than more celebrated athletes.    Douglas first turned out in the E-G in 1965 and was on the fourth stage where he was fourteenth fastest against some very good athletes.   In 1966 he was eleventh on the first stage and in 1967 he was again fourteenth fastest on the fourth stage.   Three races on two of the four toughest legs of the event.   This was a baptism of fire in the event.   If the fourth and first were difficult, he was rewarded with the awesome standard of the second stage in 1968 where he was the eleventh fastest time – this was running of the highest standard because he was self paced in the middle of nowhere and managed to pick up one place for the team.   The following year he again ran on the second stage and if it had been hard the year before, the standard was even higher this time but he picked up two places with the twelfth fastest time of the morning.    The next year was virtually a triumph for the club when they finished fifth and received the medals for the most meritorious unplaced performance and Douglas had the seventh fastest time on the stage surrounded by top international runners.   In 1971 the club was sixth and again Douglas took on the best on the second stage: it was a complement that he was asked to do this demanding stint year in and year out.   This time he was sixth fastest only one second behind Commonwealth Games Marathon winner Jim Alder and ahead of several established Scottish representative runners when he picked up four places. In 1972 he again contested the stage and was seventh fastest but this time he was 26 seconds up on Jim Alder.   Many of the faces on the stage changed with the years but for the fifth year Douglas was there finding out more about the stage and getting more out of himself every time. 1973 saw him again lining up at Maybury Cross for the second stage and again he was seventh fastest picking up three other clubs.   1974, another race but the same stage and this time he was eleventh fastest but still managed to pick up two places for the club.   In 1975 he was again the man for the hardest stage in any road relay in the country and this time picked up three places.   Eleventh time in 1976 was exactly the same time as Olympian Frank Clement and that was typical of the standard that Douglas was taking on year after year.  Two clubs were passed this time.    It is also a tribute to Douglas that he didn’t refuse the invitation to tackle it at any point: the club needed him to do it, he was good enough to run it and, more important, confident enough to do it.   He ran it again in 1978 for the eleventh time in a row, surely a record – I cannot find anyone in any club who has run it more often. He was sixteenth quickest on the stage.   In 1979 he had a break and turned out on the exposed fifth stage across the highest and windiest part of the course and picked up one place with eleventh fastest time.   Came 1980 and he had the undulating third stage – the shortest in the race at approximately four miles and had fourteenth time on the stage.   He missed 1981 but in 1982 he was again in the eight runners for the club and this time ran the difficult sixth stage – a long, winding downhill stretch through some of the most soul destroying country side in industrial Lanarkshire where the club had been looking for a good runner for some years.  There is no club in the country that could not have benefited from having Douglas in its ranks.   A summary of his performances is below: many are content to hold their place on a stage of the race; most would be content to hold their place on the second stage – Douglas only dropped one place on three occasions and against there is the year when he picked up four and another when he gained three places.   In eleven runs on this stage he made a total gain of 15 places for a net loss of only 3!


Year 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 82
Stage 4 1 4 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 5 3 6
+Gain -1 0 -2 +1 +2 -1 +4 -1 +2 +1 +3 +2 -1 0 +1 -2 -1

He was also good on the track and won club, County and District medals and titles there too.   In 1971 for instance he was ranked twenty fifth in Scotland for 3000 metres with his time of 8:39, twenty sixth in the 5000 metres with a best of 14:53.4 and twenty sixth in the 10000 metres with a best of 31:35.0 and in 1974 on the road was ranked eighteenth in the marathon with his first run over the distance in 2:29:02.    His road running as evidenced by the Edinburgh – Glasgow running and many excellent races on the road was also very good.   He competed with distinction in many road races such as the short 5+ Miles Dunky Wright Road Race, the middle range of Tom Scott 10 Miles and 12 miles of the Balloch – Clydebank 12 Miles and the Clydebank to Helensburgh 16 Miles as well as the long distance Strathallan Meeting 22 Miles and the marathon.    The Strathallan Meeting was one which was watched by Jock Semple of Clydesdale Harriers and the Boston Marathon who was home on holiday and Douglas acquitted himself well much to Jock’s delight.  In 1975 he did what most club members were doing at that time and ran in the Mamore Hill race where he finished fourth behind Phil Dolan’s second win in the race with Pat Younger and Bobby Shields, recovering from an eye injury, supporting from the sidelines.   He has personal best times of 8:39 for 3000 metres, 14:53.4 for 5000 metres, 31:16 for 10000 metres (both track times) and 2:29:02 for the marathon.

* * * * *

In the 1980’s he was living and working in Edinburgh and following a series of injury problems disappeared from the racing scene for some time but Douglas always kept himself fit and made a comeback in the mid 1990’s.   The comeback started in 1994 when he ran in the club’s cross country handicap for the Hannah Cup and he finished fourth in the fifth fastest time on the day.   Soon afterwards he ran in the club championship where he was fourth and first veteran in the championship.       1995 was the first real racing season back and he was third in the club championships in December behind James Austin and John Hanratty.   In January 1996 in the County Championships, run in a snowstorm at Bearsden, he finished fourth and a member of the winning team – first veteran and first team made it two more Dunbartonshire gold to add to his collection.   First in the Hannah Cup in second fastest time behind James Austin and third and again first veteran in the club championships set him up for the National Championships where he was fifth club runner.   In the Scottish Veterans Cross Country Championship he was ninth, first M45 from any club and first Clydesdale runner to finish.   He ran and raced well over the summer running twice for the club’s track and field team – once over 5000 metres and once over 10000 metres.  

His 1996/97 cross country season began with the DAAA Relays at Maryhill in October where running in the second team he was part of a club clean sweep of the individual medals with Ian Murphy being fastest in the race, Graeme Reid fastest Junior and Douglas taking fastest veteran.   On to the National Relays at Irvine, he was fastest in the second team in a time (13:42) only two seconds slower than Graeme Reid in the first team.   This B Team was a veterans team which was second in their class and won silver for the effort.   Still in November the Harriers notes in the Clydebank Post started –

“It’s just as well that Clydesdale Harrier Douglas Gemmell is not an abstainer – for he came away from the Braid Hills Race with a crate of Greenmantle packed away in the boot of his car.   This was his prize for yet another win as a veteran.   This time over six miles he recorded 26:29 to take the race by only two seconds.”   At the end of the month he ran in the District Championships at Cumnock he was  twenty eighth and the club’s fourth counter behind Ian Murphy (fifth), James Austin ninth, Des Roache (tenth) and ahead of Derek Halpin (thirty second) and John Hanratty (sixty second).    The team finished third and Douglas had another medal to add to his Districts tally.      A week later and it was the club Hannah Cup being run for the hundredth time and Douglas was first veteran.

Came 1997 and in January Douglas was ninth in the Nigel Barge Road Race (pictured above at the start wearing number 210) taking the first Over 50 award, defeating all the Over 40’s as well in a time of 27:33.  One week later the club cross country championships were held over the traditional Braidfield Farm trail and Douglas won the title.   It was exactly twenty years since he had last done so and he defeated John McArthur by twelve seconds.  In the Dunbartonshire County Championships Clydesdale had the first five finishers and Douglas was seventh.   Having won the title with the first four, the silver was won by the second team: a silver medal was added to his collection along with the gold for the first veteran.  In February he tried out the indoor scene at the Scottish Vets 3000 metres championship and won the Over 50 class in a time of 9:32.8 from Bobby Young.   Having travelled to Perth for the National Cross Country Championships in good form he lost a contact lens on the way to the start and missed the race while he looked for it!   He made up for it when he contested the BVAF Indoor 3000 metres championships in Kelvin Hall and won his first British title in 9:27.   He went to the BVAF Cross Country Championships at Silksworth in Sunderland on 26th March and finished second after a terrific race against strong favourite Brian O’Neill from Aldershot.   ‘Athletics Weekly’ described it thus:

“In the separate M50 race Brian O’Neill lived up to his tag as favourite but was pressed all the way by Dougie Gemmell.   The Aldershot man was 10 yards ahead by the end of the first circuit, but Gemmell closed up on the descents.   With O’Neill stronger going up the hills and the Scotsman better going down, it was a see-saw affair as the minor placings and older age group races became somewhat overshadowed.   The two leaders continued their battle until the final hill.   “I wanted it so much,” O’Neill said.   “I knew I could get away up the hills however he stuck in.”   The difference between the two at the finish was a mere four seconds: 34:04 to 34:08.   

The British Veterans Indoor Championship was next and he won that too in 9:27.  The Veterans Six Stage Road Relay at Torrance had two teams from Clydesdale Harriers competing and again Douglas was the star man with a superb run on the final stage. The season ended with the Six Stage Road Relays at Kirkintilloch where he seemed in well known territory from E-G days when he ran on the second stage for the first team, taking over in third from Kheredine Idessane and did well to limit the drop in places to four – the team finished a creditable fifth.  

April, May, June and July saw almost incessant racing.   In April it was back on to the roads and he was first Over 50 in the Scottish Vets 10 miles championship at Greenock in 56:53.  Next race was also a 10 miles – the Tom Scott Race and he was again first Over 50 in 54:17.    He ran in a track race for the club in a League Match at Greenock in a meeting that was abandoned immediately after the 5000 metres and times were not taken.   The comeback was going well!  In May at the Scottish Veterans McInnes Road Race at Coatbridge he was second and first Over 50 again.       Called to Track League duty he ran the 5000 metres and ran well before tackling the Polaroid 10K Series which consisted of only three races at this time.   In the first one at Helensburgh he was twenty third and first Over 50 in 33:42.   The next one was at Dumbarton and again he was first Over 50.   The Walter Ross Veterans Road Race resulted in third place and first Over 50 again 33:54.   In the final Polaroid Race he was again first Over 50 – this time in 33:45.   In July he took the age group award again in the Veterans 5K Road Race at Lochinch in 15:56 which was one minute upon the second runner.   And in the Veterans 7 Miles Road Race at Bannockburn he was again first in his class. Back on to the track the Scottish Veterans Over 50 5000 metres was won in 17:01 after winning the 1500 in 4:36.   After a bit of a rest he was in action again in August where he was timed at 10:01 for the ‘Runners are Smilers’ Two Miles Road Race: the fastest ever by a Scot Veteran.   In September he took part in the Andy Forbes Memorial Race for Veterans and was second and again first Over 50 in 33:42.   The times for 10K over the summer were wonderfully consistent with two at 33:42 and the slowest of the summer being 33:54.    He didn’t race again in September but this kind of running gets you noticed and he was selected for the match against the North of England in Cumberland.  Not content with one event he tackled three: he was second in the 800 in 2:16; first in the 1500 in 4:39 and third in the 5000 in 17:00.  

His winter campaign started with the Edinburgh Festival of Road Running in October where he repeated the win of the previous year in 35:07.  In the National Relays in October he ran in the B (veterans) team and picked up 14 places on the third stage indicating that he had lost none of his sharpness.      When the British rankings for summer were released, his name led all the rest at 5K with his 15:56 clocking from the Lochinch run.  In November he was off to Ballymena in Ireland for the annual Veterans International where he was ninth overall in 34:13 for 10K.   Also in November he ran in the Edinburgh University Braid Hills Six Miles Race and was for the second year in succession he was first veteran in 35:27 for the notoriously hilly course – and went home with four litres of St Andrew’s Ale.   In the District Championships in December he was second club counter (behind James Austin) in the team that finished third and got him another district medal when he was twenty seventh finisher.

Twenty first in the Nigel Barge race in 27:47 in January 1998 he took the first Over 50, he turned out in the Jack Crawford road race at Bishopbriggs where he finished twenty sixth and was again first Over 50.    A week later DAAA Champs he was still carrying the injury and finished twenty third – the previous year he had been seventh.   After resting it and trying various treatments he eventually had to miss the Scottish Veterans Championships in March due to the persistent hip injury.    As far as the comeback was concerned it was ‘The End’.

* * * * *

In any assessment of Douglas’s career as a runner it has to be remembered that he was running and racing at a time when the standard in Scotland in his chosen events had never been higher.    Even bearing that in mind he has to go down as one of the best ever Clydesdale Harriers runners in my 50+ years in the club.   His record in the Edinburgh – Glasgow alone merits recognition and respect.    His twelve gold medals in the Dunbartonshire Championships are more than any other runner in my time in the club – the team changed around him but he was always there.    He was a bit unfortunate in the strength within the club at the time that he only won the one club cross country championship but some of that could maybe be put down to the nature of the course used for the race which did not particularly suit his style of running.   With five of the top twelve or thirteen men in the club in my time as his contemporaries, it was a good time to be a racer but a bad time to be looking for championship victories!   But his involvement and influence did not stop there.   He was a good club committee man and held several positions on the Committee including a stint as Captain.   He wrote the Harriers notes every week in the ‘Clydebank Press’ under the pseudonym of ‘Tortoise’.   And at a time when other clubs were approaching our top men, and when we lost runners such as Willie Reid to Edinburgh Southern Harriers and Alan Marshall to Shettleston as well as Bob and Ishbel Peel, top officials, to Shettleston Harriers Ladies, Douglas and Phil Dolan did so much for the club by simply staying as good club members and serving as role models for the younger athletes coming through that their worth cannot be over estimated.   He was running so well when he moved to Edinburgh and the standard of running displayed during his brief comeback makes you ask “What could he have done without the break?”   There is a good case to be made (but one that I personally don’t buy) that his second career was more successful than the first: County and District medals, a second club cross country championship, Scottish and British Indoor titles, Scottish international appearances and a British cross country championship silver medal.    Had that been his only career it was one to be proud of.   But there was more to Dougie than that:   as Clydesdale Harriers go – Douglas has to be one of the very best.

Ian Donald


Before Ian Donald joined the club in 1964, Clydesdale Harriers had last won medals in the Scottish Cross Country Championships in 1955 when they were third.   That generation of runners had almost all departed: some like John Hume and Jackie Hislop emigrated, some like Bobby Clark left the area altogether and others like John Wright had been injured and were out of top class running.   Solid team performances had been put in by good runners like Johnny B Maclachlan, Neil Buchanan, young Bobby Shields (who would go on to great things as a hill runner) and Pat Younger.   Club spirit was still high but nothing major had been won in the ten years before Ian joined the club in 1964.  From the time when he won his first team gold medals as a Youth for Shettleston in 1955, he had been used to being in winning teams.   The record before us was impressive.    In the Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay,  Shettleston Harriers had been 2nd, 3rd, 1st, 1st,  1st, 5th, 4th, 6th over the period and were lamenting not winning medals, while Clydesdale were 5th,  5th  , 11th, 15th, 15th, 18th, 13th, 18th and rejoicing in ‘making the race’ and hoping for the most meritorious medals.   The story in the National Cross Country Championships was similar with Shettleston winning four in a row from 1959 – 1963.    To some extent ambition had gone, a lot of the confidence had gone.  But Ian had a pedigree that could not be denied and it could not help influence the club members.


Ian joined the club in December 1964 after training with us from April.   He had won many gold medals as part of Shettleston Senior Men’s teams over the years in the

  • National Cross Country Championships (gold in 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962);
  • Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay Race (1960 and 1961);
  • District Championships – two gold, two silver and two bronze between 1959 and 1964;
  • County Championships – one gold and three silver between ’60 and ’63;
  • He had competed at British level in the London – Brighton race four times (’59, ’60, ’61, ’62)

He was also the Shettleston Club Champion in seasons 1962/63 and ‘63/’64 so he was a quality athlete probably at the peak of his career.

He had moved to live in Old Kilpatrick when he started work at Maclehose the Printers in the West End of Glasgow.   His presence started building confidence in club members without him realising that he was doing it.    The fact that a runner of his calibre would leave a successful team and join up was in itself a boost but there were other factors about Ian.   First, he trained with the club at least twice a week, more often three times and on occasion more than that.   Just by running with an acknowledged top runner, club members felt better.   As in every club, when a new member comes along the club ‘top guns’ have a go at him.   To their surprise they found that they could run with him for further than they might have thought they could and at times even outrun him in training.   This all helped.   Second, he very seldom spoke of his previous club but when he started to say that training was as hard as it was at Shettleston and that as a club we should be doing better, we believed him.   The fact that Shettleston didn’t want to lose him was further recommendation if more were needed.   When his change of club form arrived at the SCCU Committee, the Shettleston representative was reduced to arguing that he hadn’t moved from one town to another because Barrachnie was not a town and Old Kilpatrick was not a town either!    It was a petty argument but virulently argued, albeit in vain.

After he joined the club he ran in every cross country race that he could and in all club championships.   In fact his very first race was the day after he got clearance from the SAAA.   This was the Dunbartonshire Championships at Dumbarton where Ian (second behind Lachie Stewart) with Johnny B Maclachlan, Ian Leggett and Bobby Shields was a member of the winning team.   He went on to win the club championship, the Hannah Cup for the fastest time in the handicap race and the Dan MacDonald Cup for the highest points total in Championship races over the winter. The impact was immediate and massive.   In the summer of 1965 he was second in the County Three Miles Championships, second in the West District Six Miles Championships and ended the summer with fourth place in the Ben Nevis Race – young Bobby Shields was seven places back.   In between he raced on the roads and on the track as well as over the hills.   Like most of the top men Ian was never a big time runner who did his own thing and raced when he felt like it.   Every winter he raced in everything from the McAndrew Relays at the start of October right through to the National Championships and beyond.    In cross country races, a lot was learned just going over the trail with him before a cross country race. He was the best ‘reader’ of a trail that I ever met.    At the start of 1966 he won the race at Stewarton then was eleventh in the National Cross Country Championships – the highest by a Clydesdale since 1955.   At the AGM in 1967 Jim Shields “congratulated the club on a fairly successful season emphasising the leadership of Ian Donald”. (Extract from the club Minute Book)   

At this time, the club had organised various outings to the Glen Orchy Ski Hut, to Ben Lomond at New Year, and so on and Ian and Helen supported these whole heartedly.   The club also had an annual outing to Ben Lomond on New Year’s Day led by David Bowman and Ian and Helen supported these too.   Club presentations – they had to come because he had won so much!    They were also part of a group with David and Evelyn Bowman, John and Janice Wright, Ian and Cathie Leggett and Brian and Betty McAusland at every Scottish Marathon Club Presentation.   Helen had been a Scottish International 1500 metres athlete in her own right when with Bellahouston Harriers and for a time helped with the coaching of the girls in the club.   They were both very popular.


Ian and Helen on Ben Nevis in 1963

In summer he turned out in club teams on the road and track but preferred hill running and racing.   Bobby Shields had already absorbed the hill running culture before Ian arrived and he was ambitious in that direction.   A very gifted hill runner whose wins were all his own, he would be the first to say that he learned a lot from Ian and it was with his help that he won the Ben Nevis race in 1967.   Bobby had been eleventh in the Ben race in 1965, third in 1966 with Ian one place ahead and won it in 1967.   He went on to be in the first ten thirteen times.  Ian had first run the Ben Nevis race in 1959 where he finished seventeenth in 2:03:03 in his first season as a hill runner.   A year later Ian won Goatfell in Arran, set a record when winning the Mamore Hill race at Kinlochleven and ran again in the Ben Nevis race where he was twenty ninth in 2:7:48.    Although he won hill races from Goatfell to Newtonmore he never won the Ben Nevis in any of his attempts although he was second in 1966 with Bobby Shields third.   He was acknowledged as one of the best in the business.  


A typical summer would include a whole range of events – in 1967 for instance he won the club cross country championships at the start of the year, had fastest time in the Hannah Cup, led the team home in the National Championships, finished second in the Balloch to Clydebank in 63:36, was second again at Gourock in the 14 miles in 1:14:47, finished second in the County Track 3 Miles to Colin Martin, ran 52:04 for the ten miles track on progressively deteriorating cinders in the SAAA Championships, ran the 14.5 miles Dunblane Road Race in 1:22:30, tackled the Ben Nevis race (73rd in 2:05 against his pb of 1:47 35 a year earlier), then into the cross country season.   He had the fastest club time in the McAndrew Relays and assisted the team to second place in the County relays with second fastest time behind Lachie Stewart and the results of the Edinburgh to Glasgow and Midlands events are already described in other places.   One unusual feature of 1967 was the fact that he ran in a special invitation one hour race at Cowal Highland Games where he was placed third with a total distance of 11 miles 600 yards – ie averaging well inside five and a half minutes per mile on a dreadful cinder track. (Incidentally, the race had a proliferation of sponsors one of whom awarded the winner  (Lachie Stewart) a case of cigarettes in addition to his race  prize!)   Helen said recently in a letter that he just loved racing and was never happier when taking part in a competition.

His record in club races is first class.   Club Champion in 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969, winner of the Hannah Cup for fastest time in the Six Mile Cross Country Handicap in 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1969, Sinclair Trophy for Five Miles Road Championship in 1966 and 1967, Dan McDonald Trophy for the winter Points Contest in 1965, 1966 and 1967 and the Semple Merit Award for an outstanding performance during the winter season in 1967.    In the Hannah Cup on one occasion he was handicapped so severely that he was still waiting to start as scratch man when Jim Sweeney who had started first passed on his way into the second of three two mile laps!   Jim boasted for years of the time he passed Ian Donald “as if he was standing still.”   When it came to the prestigious Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay, Ian ran in twelve races on stages one, two, four, five, six and eight.   Whatever the club needed him to do he did..

What did we gain from Ian?   He broadened our horizons and restored the ambition.   Before Ian came, one of the longest serving club members at the time who should have known better  said that we should aim for the County Championships because that was the only thing we could win – Ian changed that.  In the time from 1969 to 1980 the club won more medals in the West District Cross Country Championships than any other club – that included three first places in an event that we had never won.   A lot of that is down to Ian’s influence.   He also introduced an element of hardness into the attitudes and on training runs which had started to become quite soft.   For instance I remember on a training run with Ian, Phil Dolan and Allan Faulds, Allan started to drop back a bit on the return through Drumchapel.   I rather naively asked if we should wait for him.   Ian’s growled reply was to the effect that “Well, he wouldn’t wait for us.”   So we all went a bit harder even although we were suffering a bit ourselves as well.  It did not matter that Allan had probably been training at lunch time. 

Ian’s influence on the young Phil Dolan when he advised him to apply for a training permit for Westerlands in Glasgow where he could train with many of the best in the country should also be remembered.   Phil points to this a key factor in his athletics development.   His influence on Bobby Shields has already been noted.   The basic truth is that no one in the club failed to be impressed with his quiet determination.

He was not interested only in athletics – he was a really good hillwalker and climber and was quickly adopted into the club’s hill walking group and the social life that revolved around guys like Pat Younger and Frank Kielty.  He is pictured on the left at the top of Ben Nevis.   Perhaps more surprisingly he and his wife Helen were keen gardeners and cultivators of Alpine Plants in particular.   A member of the Scottish Rock Garden Club he won their prestigious Wilson Medal for Alpines several times and gardeners from all over Scotland would come to see his plants at Old Kilpatrick and were welcomed by Ian and Helen.  

Ian was a friend of Walter Ross of Garscube Harriers who almost single handedly founded the Scottish Veteran Harriers Club and was also publisher of the ‘Scots Athlete’ monthly magazine.   Walter gave Ian a signed and bound copy of the magazine for 1946-47 with the inscription:   “To my friend, Ian C Donald in grateful appreciation of your enthusiasm for athletics and wishing you personal success which must come on account of your devotion, Yours sincerely, Walter J Ross, Glasgow, 19th January 1962”

Ian gave me this volume as a gift that I still treasure.   Incidentally it was the same Walter Ross who made the presentation to John B Hume in Vancouver in 1988.   Ian was a real gentleman with never a harsh word about anyone, with friends everywhere.    It was not only on the race course that he never gave in though: there is the story of Ian being approached in Queen Street Station in Glasgow by a well dressed individual who had a plausible story about losing his wallet and needing 2/6 for the train home. Ian gave him the money and then saw him leave the station and cross George Square.   He then followed the chap into the Ingram pub where he saw him buying a drink.   He went right up to him and asked for the money back – and got it!   You didn’t mess around with Ian but the story does also indicate his preparedness to help anyone who needed it.   Most of us would have refused and, if we did not, we wouldn’t have been brave enough to go and ask for the cash back.

When it was known that he had leukaemia, we were all upset.   For a while, since the early 1970’s, we thought it was glandular fever that was his problem.   When we discovered the truth we thought it was the end of his running.   Not a bit of it.   He ran for several more years even while enduring chemo therapy.  For instance, in August 1976 he ran in the one off hill race ‘The Maidens of Mamore’ which covered Binnean Mor and Na Gruagaichean and was eighth in 2:03:44 just ahead of Aberdeen’s Mel Edwrads.   Naturally the racing was restricted by his illness but I remember running a club cross country championships with Ian and exchanging third and fourth places all the way round.   We were having a real ding dong battle.   At the start of the third and last lap I asked him if he were intending to run in the Scottish Vets Championship in a couple of weeks time.   Was he struggling?   Not a bit – he simply asked where and when it was being held and he might go.  Not a pause in his breathing or his rhythm.   Then it dawned on me – he had a very serious illness and I was training 65+ miles a week and furthermore I was struggling.  

He was a real inspiration to the whole club and to some of us on a more personal level.






James Erskine

 James Erskine

James Erskine  grew up in Glasgow and by the age of 16 was working as a stockbroker’s clerk. In 1887 he married Janet Barrie, the 4th of 11 children of Thomas Barrie and Margaret Strachan. Thomas Barrie worked as an iron forgeman and managed to acquire several properties in Glasgow which were still bringing Nancy Erskine a small income as recently as the 1950s.

James and Jenny (pictured above) had 5 children. Their first child, also called James, was born in 1888 six months (!) after their marriage but tragically died of  pneumonia and peritonitis in 1894 a few days before what would have been his 6th birthday. There followed two more boys, Thomas Barrie Erskine (born 1889) and Ralph (born 1893) before in 1895, they had a daughter, Margaret Strachan Erskine. Sadly, as was commonplace then, Margaret too became an infant mortality statistic, dying of tubercular meningitis the following year.

James and Jenny’s final child Nancy was born in 1897, but there was another tragedy to follow. When Nancy was only four, her mother Jenny died of consumption. James was now a widower with three surviving children,– Tommy, Ralph and Nancy.

Thomas Barrie Erskine was born at 96 Gray Street, Glasgow on 16 December 1889.   By that time his father was in Clydesdale Harriers – he had been a founder member of the club – and had a business as an insurance salesman doing well enough to advertise via a full page in the Harriers Handbook.

As far as Clydesdale Harriers was concerned, James was on the club committee from the start and in 1888/89 was club secretary and also a District Leader for Number  One District (Dennistoun, Camlachie Rutherglen), as well as being on several sub-committees: Business Committee, Advising Board, and Headquarters Representative to the South Lanarkshire Section.   He remained secretary until 1890/91 when Andrew Dick took over the position.   He did some track running and won prizes – 4 in 1989.   He took a step back at this point, probably because of the family situation.   James had been born in 1888, Ralph in 1893, Margaret in 1895 and Nancy in 1897.    Two of them, James and Margaret died in infancy.  

There was no sign of James at the Clydesdale Harriers as a runner or as a Committee man  until both boys became club members and were on the committee, he came back and was himself again on the Committee when war broke out in 1914.


James had lost his wife and two of his five children before the War and then to lose the two boys must have been heart breaking for him .   He came back to the club again where he had been contemporary with Andrew Hannah and Alex Honeyman and when the patrons included Sir Otto Trevelyan and Cameron Corbett.   There were many friends there and he had enjoyed good times with them for many years.   


Clydesdale Harriers: some posters

The handbills below were notice of and advertising for some of the club’s meetings.   They cover some of the first ever two day meetings at Dunoon, at Parkhead, at Meadowside (the Partick Thistle ground) and at Scotstoun for the cross-country handicap and 100 yards handicap.



Clydesdale Sports, Ibrox 1921

The link between the two old clubs was finally broken after the first great war.   The Harriers had lost so many men in the conflict – dozens of them – and the club was no longer a club battling for National Honours.  Money became a much bigger problem and the sports at Ibrox ended with this meeting on 18th June, 1921.   

And that was the programme.   There were not many internationalists among the competitors who were mainly domestic athletes, although the numbers were quite gratifying, but several among the officials.   The list of officials contained a young Dunky Wright who would move on in 1923 to join another club – there would be three more after he left Clydesdale Harriers before his career was over.   

The meeting itself was not a success however, and the attendance ‘did not exceed 3000’.   The Glasgow Herald report the following Monday read:

Even the extra attractions of an amateur boxing match, a pole vault, a sack race and handicaps for boys and youths in addition to all the standard events, failed to gain material support for the Clydesdale Harriers, the terracing at Ibrox being even barer than on the previous Saturday.   There were more spectators at the Ardrossan meeting but there, not one football tournament was produced  but two.   The harriers had no football, and the usual penalty for the omission was exacted by the public.   As a purely athletic programme, that offered by the oldest athletic club in the West of Scotland could hardly have been bettered, its only drawback being the absence of many of the better known athletes, but it is questionable if many more people would have attended had all the champions been competing.   Racing was fairly interesting throughout, a particularly fine finish being witnessed in the final of the 100 yards handicap.   The 20 heats were, however, somewhat tedious owing to the scarcity of short mark men.   The mile was won somewhat easily by M Anderson of Shettleston Harriers who, having 125 yards in a limit of 140, was not seriously troubled as the backmarkers by the large field, and in the furlong also, the winner, GT Stevenson of the same club, had a comparatively easy win.”

The Ardrossan meeting had been organised by the Ardrossan Shipyard Athletic Club and was, we are told, well supported by Glasgow athletic clubs – especially the West of Scotland Harriers.   It was a sad end to a series of good athletic meetings which had over the years presented some top quality athletics for the people of Scotland.


Clydesdale Sports: Clydeholm, 25 May, 1927

This programme is the first we have from after the ’14/’18 War where the club lost so many men.  Both secretaries killed (T Barrie Erskine in June 1915, Harold Servant in the troop ship returning from the war), other like Gabriel Brock wounded and died in hospital, Ralph Erskine died in an air incident in January, 1918 and so on.   In the words of George Dallas of Masryhill, Clydesdale Harriers went from a National Club to a Village Club.   The latter was a bit harsh but the diminution in status was clear to see.   The annual sports conti nued – to start with at Ibrox but then in Clydebank.   It was still a big meeting as the programme shows, with full fields in every event, and a wide rang of events too.