As part of a Valley Profile series, MEGHAN HAWKES explores our local history by seeking out stories of life and death in the Thames Valley
The special holiday train from Thames to Te Aroha had stopped at Paeroa to take water.
It was New Years Day 1923 and sixteen-year-old Robert Thomson, travelling with his mother, two sisters and a brother, left the carriage to buy some lollies.
New Year’s Day at Te Aroha promised to be fun-filled with the new recreation ground being used for the first time.
The Watersider’s Silver band, touring New Zealand, was to play at the Fire Brigade sports and again in the evening at the Domain rotunda. William Redfern, shunter, stepped on to the engine to run the train up and bring it back again to dock.
At the end of the platform he saw two men running. He recognised one as Matty Crosby. He called out “Keep back; we are coming back.” Matty stopped but the other man kept running on. Half way between the platform and signal box he attempted to get on the car, but was bumped clear away from the train. Gaining his balance he tried to get on the car again but was once more thrown clear.
After the second attempt he caught hold of the carriage and appeared to go in between it and the next one. He then bumped against the tablet post and fell underneath the carriage. Horrified, William Redfern immediately gave the signal to stop.
Young Robert Thompson had fatally fallen beneath the train while his family sat on board. Railway employees and Constable McClinchy carried his body to the morgue.
Constable McClinchy found on Robert a 10 shilling note, a few packets of cigarettes, and a first-class railway ticket from Wharepoa, near Hikutaia, where the family lived and had boarded the train to Te Aroha.
At the inquest, it was determined that Robert had thought the train was moving out, when it was actually being sent back to the dock for berth.
The coroner returned the verdict that Robert “was accidentally killed whilst endeavouring to board a moving train, no blame being attachable to any of the train officials.”
Robert was a cadet employed in the Survey Department of the Crown Lands Office at Kerepēhi, where his father also worked. He was the eldest son of William and Freda Thomson, who had until recently operated and collected the tolls for the Wharepoa Ferry.
The death of Robert was the third tragedy for the Thomson family. In 1915 Robert’s siblings Mavis, aged 4 years 7 months, and Owen, 2 years, died within two months of each other.
All three children are buried together at Shortland cemetery in Thames.