Chatham cop who re­tired in 1962 knew no fear

The Chatham Daily News - - NEWS - JIM & LISA GIL­BERT

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

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