the story of 'Old Tom'... part 4

Tom's Near Death Experience:
Tom told many exciting tales concerning the Eastbourne Lifeboat. Here is one adventure that took place after his conversion to the Salvation Army. On one occasion, after a rescue operation, the sea, being too rough for the lifeboat to get back to Eastbourne, the Coxswain decided to try to land at Hastings. The small boat, controlled by the sail and oars, with expert hands at the tiller was like a toy in comparison with the super vessels of today. The effort to land on the beach at Hastings became a perilous operation as the boat was tossed about by the great waves. Crowds of people, standing on the beach and watching the progress of the sturdy little ship, were horrified to see her disappear under a huge wave; this they thought, was the end, and there were groans and cries as they realised their utter helplessness to assist. But the lifeboat reappeared, and she was the right way up! But alas, the Second Coxswain had disappeared, vanished - our Tom had been washed overboard. But God was taking special care of Tom, who by this time was His devoted disciple. A 'drogue rope', also partly washed overboard, was instrumental in saving Tom's life; he clung to the rope with which his hands somehow came into contact, and believing he had put his hands into the hands of Christ, he knew he was safe. Flung upon the beach by a mighty wave like a piece of wreckage, Tom was saved with the lifeboat. He remained unconscious for hours, and for fourteen days he was lovingly cared for in a Public House in Hastings called 'Star of the East', his family visiting him from Eastbourne as soon as they heard of the near tragedy. Tom never fully recovered from the effects of that accident, and from the drastic measures that were used to try to get the sea water out of his lungs. This incident was used repeatedly by Tom when giving his testimony at Salvation Army meetings. A writer, W.Thorne, heard of this story and composed a poem about it:

Philosopher Tom:
Once, when his men were 'moaning' because the Boniface boats weren't allowed to go out on Sunday, Tom said to his brother Harry concerning the other fishermen, "They'll be tired by about Thursday and we'll still have the rest of the week", adding, "A steady stream is better than a hasty flood".
Taking out a fishing party one day, Tom found this group of wealthy people were very intrigued by the fact that he always wore his red jersey under his oilskins, emblazoned with the words 'The Salvation Army'. Rather fascinated, one lady said to Tom, "Boatman Tom, what would you do if the boat went down?" "Lady", Tom replied gently, "I would go up". Visitors from all parts of the world, and from all over Britain, seemed to consider a chat with 'Old Tom' (as he was most affectionately called in later years) one of the highlights of their holiday. One gentleman, hearing of this interesting fisherman, thought he would like to find out a few things. In a superior manner he asked Tom if he ever visited a theatre; replying in the negative, Tom was then asked about other forms of entertainment - to all of which he gave the same reply. "You are rather green, Boatman, aren't you?" Said the visitor. "Yes", said Tom with a twinkle in his bright blue eyes, "I am evergreen too, I don't fade in the winter". His sense of humour was great.
Tom was just as much at home with the highborn people as with those of more humble origin, or with the poor. Many a time handsome horse-drawn vehicles - and in later years sleek automobiles, pulled up outside Tom's cottage home; gentry thought it a privilege to come and talk with him, and often asked his advice on spiritual matters; Elizabeth was a sweet hostess on these occasions. Sometimes, Tom was entertained by these same people in the most prominent hotels in the town, and all his friends knew him to be a teetotaller. Tom rarely 'dressed up'; whatever the occasion he wore his seaman's clothes, carefully cleaned and pressed by Betsy, plus his red Salvation Army jersey. There was no compromising with Tom, but with it all he was humble, quiet, refined and gently dignified.

Death at Sea and a Mother's Dream:
All of Old Tom's sons followed in his footsteps and served in the Eastbourne Lifeboat. During World War One all six of Tom and Elizabeth's surviving sons served England faithfully in the navy (mostly) or army, as did his five sons-in-law and one grandson. To distinguish this occasion they were presented a 'Roll of Honour' containing a photo of Old Tom and one of Elizabeth and also one of each of those who served, with honourable mentions. LINK

It was the sea that claimed the life of their third oldest son, William. During WWI while on leave from the navy, (he was a Chief Petty Officer), he and a friend were in an open boat on the English Channel and they were caught in a storm. A destroyer responded to their distress rockets, and his friend jumped to the safety of the destroyer, but when Will attempted to jump a huge wave jammed the two vessels together, crushing poor Will and his body was never found. The night before, his mother Elizabeth had a dream. She dreamt of a horseman, riding up from the depths of the sea, onto the beach at Eastbourne and saying, "Will Bonny, where's Will Bonny? I'm looking for Will Bonny!"


The Story of Old Tom Part 1 ... Part 2 ... Part 3 ... Part 5

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