Mur­ray Walker and his cy­cle-mad dad

Black Country Bugle - - YOUR LETTERS - By DAVID COOPER

SERGEANT Gra­ham William Walker served in the First World War with the Sig­nals Com­pany of the Royal En­gi­neers Reg­i­ment.

In the course of his du­ties on the Western Front in France as a dis­patch rider, he was the suc­cess­ful tar­get of a Ger­man shell re­sult­ing in repa­tri­a­tion to Grove Hos­pi­tal, Leighton Buz­zard, Bed­ford­shire; one of many hos­pi­tals req­ui­si­tioned by the War Of­fice.

Be­tween 1913 and 1916 The Grove treated over 15,000 of­fi­cers and other ranks. On re­turn to his reg­i­ment it is said that Sgt Mur­ray was pre­sented with a new mo­tor­cy­cle, spe­cially mod­i­fied to cope with the re­sult of his leg in­juries. Un­be­known at the time the two-wheeled ma­chine and Leighton Buz­zard were to play an im­por­tant part in in the com­ing years of the 1920s and be­yond.

Be­fore hos­til­i­ties be­gan, at the age of 18, Gra­ham Walker was pas­sion­ate about mo­tor­cy­cles, a sub­ject which prob­a­bly oc­cu­pied his mind a great deal when con­fined to bed at The Grove Hos­pi­tal, along with 550 other wounded com­rades.


As was of­ten the case in wartime, Gra­ham found his wifeto-be in one of many nurses whose tire­less ded­i­ca­tion be­came a corner­stone of the British re­solve. The union be­tween Gra­ham Walker and Elsie Spratt de­liv­ered in 1923 a boy child of 9lbs 12oz, born at home in Hall Green, Birm­ing­ham. He was chris­tened Graeme Mur­ray Walker. Drop the first moniker and if that name is not fa­mil­iar, his voice would be a give­away as one of the most recog­nis­able on British Tele­vi­sion as the lead­ing com­men­ta­tor of mo­tor­sport.

In 1925 the fam­ily re­lo­cated to Wolver­hamp­ton when Walker se­nior clinched a top job in join­ing Sun­beam to man­age the firm’s mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing team. His for­mer em­ployer was the much-fa­bled Birm­ing­ham based Nor­ton mo­tor­cy­cle com­pany where he had achieved count­less awards for the hal­lowed Brace­bridge Street fac­tory, such as sec­ond place in the 1923 Isle of Man TT (Tourist Tro­phy).

At the time the TT was her­alded as the most im­por­tant of the world’s mo­tor­cy­cle com­pe­ti­tions. For John Marston to have tempted Walker to join Sun­beam was in­deed an ac­com­plish­ment as the year ahead proved to be one of the most suc­cess­ful for the Sun­beam­land, Paul Street works lo­cated in the Penn Fields area of Wolver­hamp­ton.


Out­right vic­to­ries in high­ly­con­tested in­ter­na­tional events in Se­nior TT races in Aus­tria, Italy and Hun­gary, plus a 24 hour event in France, sat nicely with nine gold medals, won in pun­ish­ing over­land tri­als in the home­land. The fol­low­ing year Gra­ham Walker took the che­quered flag, claim­ing vic­tory in the Grand Prix of Europe rid­ing a 350cc OHV (Over­head Valve) fac­tory-pre­pared Sun­beam.

Com­monly de­scribed as the ul­ti­mate chal­lenge for rider and ma­chine the Isle of Man TT cir­cuit of 37.73 miles is staged on closed pub­lic high­ways no­table for hav­ing 200 bends and sev­eral hair-rais­ing bridges, and through town cen­tres flanked by the haz­ards of walls, build­ings, kerbs, trees and road side posts.

Mist and of­ten thick fog at the high­est point on the 1,300 ft (396m) Snae­fell moun­tain could also pose an un­wel­come men­ace. A typ­i­cal Senor TT race at the time meant riders en­dured up to four hours in the sad­dle.

Gra­ham Walker’s best ever for Sun­beam was fifth in the 1927 Se­nior TT at an av­er­age speed of 64.72mph. In­ter­est­ingly, whilst we have no record of the weather con­di­tions at the time, in the fol­low­ing year, the highly-re­garded rider Char­lie Dob­son won the event also for Sun­beam at the slightly slower av­er­age speed of 62.98mph.

In an epic duel for the first man to reach the high­est speed, it was in the Ul­ster Grand Prix, North­ern Ire­land, a cou­ple of months later that Gra­ham Walker claimed the ti­tle for Sun­beam of the first rider to win a GP at an av­er­age speed of 80mph.


Char­lie Dob­son, an­other mem­ber of the Sun­beam rac­ing team, lost out by only 11 sec­onds in the con­test, which is recorded as be­ing com­pa­ra­ble to two gla­di­a­tors in wheel-towheel com­bat for over two and a half hours. And this was the man that had sus­tained se­ri­ous in­juries in World War One in the quag­mire that was the Western Front in France.

Walker’s aspi­ra­tion to win the Isle of Man TT came to fruition in 1931, rid­ing to vic­tory three years af­ter join­ing the Coven­try firm of Rudge­whit­worth in the el­e­vated ca­pac­ity of Sales and Com­pe­ti­tion Direc­tor.

Re­tir­ing from the sport around 1935 saw an op­por­tu­nity to main­tain his grass roots pas­sion in the role of ed­i­tor for Mo­tor Cy­cling mag­a­zine from 1938 to 1954. With the po­lit­i­cal clouds of World War Two gath­er­ing, the man who had spent most of his work­ing days cham­pi­oning the mer­its of two wheeled trans­porta­tion it must have been sec­ond na­ture to vol­un­teer in sup­port­ing a Home Of­fice cam­paign to re­cruit dis­patch riders for the armed forces.

Look­ing back at his Army ca­reer in the 1914/18 con­flict it would have been ironic to learn his mo­tor­cy­cle on the fate­ful wound­ing by an en­emy shell had been a Sun­beam. A strong pos­si­bil­ity per­haps? Hun­dreds of ex­port crates were shipped from the Sun­beam mo­tor­cy­cle works bound for the British, French and Rus­sian armies in the Western and East­ern fronts.

Al­most as if he was paving the way for son Mur­ray, Walker se­nior joined the BBC as a com­men­ta­tor of mo­tor­cy­cle events. It must have been a joy­ous oc­ca­sion when in 1949 father (53) and son (26) part­nered sev­eral live com­men­taries for the BBC.

Gra­ham Walker died in 1962 at the rel­a­tively young age of 66. Son Mur­ray cel­e­brated his 95th birth­day in Septem­ber this year. Page upon page of his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy pub­lished in 2002 are given over to list­ing high­lights and awards in his com­pet­i­tive and broad­cast­ing ca­reer. For many, his voice will be mem­o­rable for his uniquely pas­sion­ate com­men­tat­ing style at 350 For­mula One mo­tor rac­ing Grand Prix events in 21 dif­fer­ent coun­tries.


Where Walker se­nior ex­celled on two wheeled ma­chines, son Mur­ray pre­ferred four, but in one glo­ri­ous mo­ment on two, he won a 250cc race at Brands Hatch in 1947, rid­ing a Wolver­hamp­ton­man­u­fac­tured AJS mo­tor­cy­cle.

1921. At the age of 25, Gra­ham Mur­ray at the French Grand Prix on a Nor­ton, most likely 500cc. Four years later he left Nor­ton to head up the Wolver­hamp­ton based Sun­beam mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing team

1931. Father and a cam­era-shy son in the pad­dock af­ter Gra­ham won the 250cc class Isle of Man TT. Mur­ray Walker was eight years old

This Sun­beam 3.5 hp sin­gle cylin­der model was typ­i­cal of the type used by dis­patch riders in the 1914/18 con­flict. Some mod­els had a side car ad­di­tion which was of­ten re­moved to pro­vide for stretcher bearer use

In his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy Mur­ray Walker said:‘i wor­shipped my father. Had there been World Cham­pi­onships in those days, my father would un­doubtable have won at least one of them.’ (Photo by Gray Mor­ti­more/getty Im­ages)

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