Constable Stabbed in the Back


Police work is interesting because no officer can ever tell what is going to happen next. It is also dangerous, although there is a tendency in some quarters to minimise the danger when the problem of what should be done with violent criminals is under discussion. The jurisdiction of the B.T.C. police is so wide and varied that at some time or other a member of the Force is bound to encounter not only the normal occupational risks of the Transport Service, but also those that most people are only too pleased to leave him to deal with. A constable may only have to turn a corner or look over a wall to find a situation that will remind him for the rest of his service of the difficulties and dangers of his job. ‘Experience,’ said Mark Twain, ‘is the best of school teachers but the school fees are heavy’, and a good policeman is expected to pay them when the occasion arises.

PC Waterland, 1956

PC Waterland, 1956

In the early hours of Friday, 17th February, 1956, P.C. Alexander Waterland was on duty in the Goods Station at West Hartlepool, when he heard a noise in the adjoining street. He looked over the boundary wall and saw two men near the Goods offices, each carrying a large suitcase. He intercepted the men and asked them what they were doing. The taller of the two men, who was wearing a brown leather jerkin, replied in broken English that they had been with some women, that the cases contained their working clothes and that they were returning to their ship. In reply to the officer’s questions, the same man said they were from a Swedish ship, but P.C. Waterland had difficulty in understanding him in view of his poor English. The smaller man was of very sturdy build and wore a Russian type black leather cap with fur-lined ear muffs, and a black leather jerkin. This man said nothing to the police officer, but the two men conversed with one another in a foreign tongue.

P.C. Waterland saw that the suitcases appeared to be new and heavy. He sensed that something was wrong and told the men he was not satisfied with their story. He asked them to go to the police office with him. The two men went with him quietly enough. On arrival at the police office P.C. Waterland moved to one side to open the door. As he did so he felt a heavy blow on his back and fell to his knees. He looked round and saw the smaller of the two men step back from him. Both men then ran away. Waterland shouted for assistance and Sergeant T. H. Henderson and P.C. L. Bell, who were in the office, came out at once. The sergeant assisted P.C. Waterland into the office and found that he had been stabbed in the left shoulder.

In the meantime P.C. Bell had given chase to the two men and managed to get within some yards of them. He had a clear view of both men, whom he recognised as two seamen he had previously had occasion to question shortly after midnight, when they were leaving the dock and walking in the direction of the town. The two men, however, succeeded in making good their escape and P.C. Bell returned to the West Hartlepool Police Office and assisted Sergeant Henderson in rendering first aid to the injured officer.

P.C. Waterland was taken by ambulance to hospital, where it was found that he had a deep wound over the left upper scapula region 1¼ ins. long, ½ in. wide and 1¾ ins. deep, extending obliquely downwards and laterally. An X-ray of the left scapula showed a cracked fracture of the infraspinous portion of the left scapula. A fair amount of blood clot was expressed from the wound, which had bled freely. The house surgeon was of the opinion that a double-edged knife was responsible for the injury and that considerable force had been used. If the knife had not been deflected by the scapula the wound would have been fatal.

The two suitcases, which the men had been carrying, had been left on the pavement outside the police office and on examination were found to contain new suits, raincoats, shoes and various other items of clothing stolen from a shop in the town.

The local police were advised of the occurrence and as both B.T.C. Police officers had been able to give good descriptions of the men concerned, enquiries were made on various ships in the dock. As a result of these enquiries, in the course of which a police dog was used, the officers went aboard the German ship S.S. Carl and saw the captain. They later went to the crews quarters where two men occupying bunks were identified by P.C. Bell as the two men he had pursued after the attack on P.C. Waterland. They were Hans Walter Schmidt (25) and Gunter Dorsch (20), both described as seamen of the S.S. Carl registered at Hamburg. Both men, through interpreters, denied all knowledge of the incident, but a new cigarette lighter similar to those stolen and two small keys which fitted one of the stolen suitcases were recovered from Dorsch’s bunk and Schmidt’s trousers pocket respectively.

Both men were taken into custody and jointly charged with feloniously wounding P.C. Alexander Waterland of the B.T.C. Police with intent to murder and also with breaking and entering a shop at 73 Lynn Street, West Hartlepool, and therein stealing various articles of clothing, cigarette lighters, etc., to the value of £178 2s. 4d. They were committed for trial and the case was heard before Mr. Justice Donovan at Leeds Assizes. Both men pleaded ‘Not Guilty’ to the charge of attempted murder, but Dorsch pleaded guilty to an alternative charge of wounding Waterland with intent to resist arrest. For this he was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. Schmidt and Dorsch both pleaded guilty to the charge of breaking and entering and larceny and were both sentenced to two years imprisonment. Both men had previous convictions in Germany. When passing sentence the Judge told the two prisoners that the use of a knife on a policeman would not be tolerated in this country, and whilst he was prepared to believe that they had not set out early in the evening carrying a knife with the intention of using it, nevertheless such action would be treated with the utmost severity.

P.C. Waterland has happily made a good recovery from his injury, as the accompanying photograph shows, and has now returned to normal duty.


Extract from the British Transport Commission Police Journal, July 1956.


WebMaster’s note:
As a result of his injury P.C. Waterland received £35 industrial injuries payment, although he was advised at the time that the Board may deduct the amount of the payment from his salary (£470 per annum).
Alexander Waterland retired in June, 1985 after 34 years service. Sadly, he died in November 2013, aged 83.