Chatham cop who retired in 1962 knew no fear
It’s in the early 1930s and Const. William Donaldson had been on the job for a few years, working as one of 12 officers under the authority of Chatham Police Force Chief Findlay Low.
Donaldson was required to work seven days a week for 10 hours a day but received a day off every five weeks.
His annual salary was $1,200. On one of those working days, the constable spotted a runaway horse on King Street. The horse was pulling an express wagon that was later identified as belonging to a man by the name of Ben Harper. The steed apparently had become frightened and bolted from the Dominion Express Office in a westerly direction along a crowded King Street.
The horse and its wagon dashed its way along the street and just narrowly missed several pedestrians. Donaldson was on his Indian motorcycle doing a regular patrol down King Street when he spotted the runaway.
Wasting little time, he immediately gave chase. He caught up to the horse and wagon and, without dismounting from his motorcycle, leaned over and grabbed the wagon’s dangling guide lines and, while steering the motorcycle with one hand and tugging on the lines with his other, was able to bring the horse to a stop.
During this mad dash down King Street, the swaying express wagon crashed into a Nash automobile owned by Thomas Burke of 12 Emma St. There was some minor damage to the Nash, but no other damage was reported and not one pedestrian was injured.
All of this safely unfolded because of Const. Donaldson and his heroic actions.
The incident with the runaway horse was one of many encountered by Donaldson in his 35 years on the Chatham Police Force. He was hired in July 1927 and did not retire until 1962.
During the First World War, Donaldson was attached to a group of fearless soldiers known as the “suicide squad.” Its more formal name was the 1st Motor Machine Gun Battalion. It was a group of six hand-picked men who were equipped with motorcycles and machine guns and who were the advance party on many raids into enemy territory.
When one considers this aspect of Donaldson’s early career, it’s perhaps easier to understand why the constable wouldn’t even hesitate to try to stop a runaway horse and wagon.
At his retirement, Donaldson was given a life membership in the Chatham Police Association, and although the retiree had little to say about his police career, others had plenty to say.
Det. Wayne Parker and Const. Frank Nicholson spoke about how Donaldson had been a key figure in many investigations involving major crimes, including murders and bank robberies.
When asked to discuss in detail some of the most memorable crimes that he was involved with as a police officer, Donaldson would only say – although with a great deal of conviction – “I never backed away from anybody or any situation.”
Const. William Donaldson