On a summer’s day in 1919, Tommy Wilson of 231 Horton Street miraculously survived one very great adventure. That adventure was falling 50 feet off the London & Port Stanley (L&PS) railway bridge at Philip Street, and into the waters of the Thames below. What was miraculous is that Tommy missed several huge stones that dotted the river – and that a daring soldier managed to locate the little boy on the river bottom. All in all, Tommy had a day that he, the soldier and the L&PS train crew, would never forget.
That morning, the first day of summer holidays, Tommy, his older brother, Lorne, and Chester and Norman Besterd of 297 Horton Street, set out for the river to fish. They safely crossed the L&PS bridge, settled down on the south bank of the Thames, and tossed their lines into the water. After Tommy had landed three fish, he became bored with that sport and climbed back up to the bridge. To tease his companions, he started hurling stones down into the water below, disturbing the fishing of the three remaining boys.
Tommy had barely started throwing stones when the train from Port Stanley loomed into sight. By now the little boy was face downward on a stringer at the side of the bridge, near the center. Little Tommy was so intent with annoying his buddies that he didn’t hear the train’s approach until it was on the south end of the bridge.
Fortunately, the train was moving slowly and Tommy jumped up and started yelling for help. L&PS motorman Frezell couldn’t see or hear the little boy, whose clothing pretty well matched the color of the bridge. The side of a railcar came in contact with Tommy’s head, cutting a gash. The impact hurled the lad into the river below.
Frezell, when he saw what had happened, slammed on the brakes and brought the train to a halt. That’s when a returned soldier, Chester McDonald, a passenger on the train, rushed into action. He jumped from the train, rushed down the steep embankment and plunged into the river. The soldier managed to avoid several large rocks as he waded into the waist-deep river. Feeling around with his feet, McDonald came in contact with the boy’s body on the river bottom about 15 feet from the bank. The soldier managed to haul up the unconscious little fisherman. McDonald, whose father was the proprietor of the Iroquois Hotel, then carried the boy back up the embankment. Tommy was rushed to the employees’ room in the L&PS offices (now John’s Fruit Co.) at the end of Maitland Street at
Both the police ambulance and the central fire truck arrived in minutes. Dr. Stevenson was summoned and realized that, aside from the scalp wound, the little boy was relatively unscathed. In the midst of the excitement, Tommy roused, began to moan in pain and burst into tears when he found himself the center of so much attention.
Tommy’s older brother, Lorne, was understandably shaken and also in tears. He had apparently warned Tommy not to play on the bridge. Once his brother was dispatched to Victoria Hospital, he ran home to tell his mother and siblings about the accident. Interviewed later by a London Free Press reporter, Lorne was still prone to tears, believing that he should have taken a firmer stand when Tommy started to climb back up to the bridge. When the reporter assured him that Tommy would recover from his adventure in short order, Lorne “smiled bravely and braced up like a little man.”
Chester McDonald, hailed as a hero, had been released from the army a year before, and was still considered to be in a weakened condition from his service overseas.
All in all, quite an adventure on a SOHO summer’s day!