Local hero deserves a lasting memorial
- Credit: Archant
“Are you going to jump with me?” This was the unexpected question Joaquin Garcia was suddenly confronted with as he was walking along the banks of the River Thames around midnight on a recent Friday in April.
Joaquin, on his way home, having finished his shift at a nearby Mexican restaurant, came across 20 year-old Folajimi Olubunmi-Adewole – known as Jimi – pointing down into the river and shouting “she’s there, she’s there”. The focus of Jimi’s exclamations was a woman, who had somehow fallen into the Thames, struggling for survival and screaming for help.
“Yes, I’ll jump” Joaquin responded. “I couldn’t think on it, so I just jumped” he said some time later, “and that’s the last time I saw Jimi”.
Joaquin Garcia and the woman the two men jumped in to rescue both survived the ordeal, but Jimi Olubunmi-Adewole tragically perished, his body being found early on the Saturday morning.
As well as calls for Jimi to be posthumously awarded the George Cross for bravery, some have also suggested that his name should also be added to the Watts Memorial.
This little known London landmark, described as a “memorial to heroic self-sacrifice” is situated in the former churchyard of Aldersgate’s St Botolph Church – an area now known as Postman’s Park, just a stone’s throw from St Paul’s Cathedral.
As its title suggests, the memorial was first conceived by the artist George Frederic Watts who, towards the end of the nineteenth century, was inspired to set up a lasting monument to ordinary peoples’ acts of bravery, by the story of servant girl Alice Ayres.
In April 1885, Alice gave her life to rescue her three nieces from a house fire in Union Street, Borough. Watts’ intention was, he said at the time, “to commemorate brave deeds done, without thought of risk or hope of reward by homely folk for whom their reward was death. The scheme will not include heroes of war, of the battlefield, or the warship. Honour is done already to the heroes of these services.
“I want honour to be done to those, equally brave, who neither expect it nor get it. I have the dignity of the nation very much at heart, and I fear we are in danger of losing it. “Drunkenness is sapping our character, and gambling threatens to destroy it. It is our duty to encourage what is good and vigilant and noble. I hope that the memorial of humble heroes will not be without its value in that direction.”
Fifty-four simple ceramic tiles adorn the wall of the Watts Memorial, each briefly highlighting the life-giving bravery of an ordinary local hero; there’s fitter’s labourer Thomas Griffin, who was fatally scalded in a boiler explosion at a Battersea sugar refinery, when he returned to search for his mate; or there’s also Mary Rogers, the stewardess of the Stella, who in March 1899 self-sacrificed by giving up her life belt and voluntarily went down in the sinking ship.
Since 1930, only one ceramic tile has been added to the collection, memorialising the sacrifice of Leigh Pitt, who saved a boy from drowning in the canal at Thamesmead in June 2007, but was unable to save himself.
Adding Folajimi Olubunmi-Adewole’s name to the Watts Memorial would be a fitting, lasting tribute.
His friend Bernard Kosia, with him on that fateful April night, recalls Jimi’s last words as he handed him his phone, before plunging into the Thames to try and rescue the screaming woman: “Bernard, I have to save her, I’m going to save her”.
The actions of Joaquin Garcia & Jimi Olubunmi-Adewole have quite rightly been described as brave, courageous, and heroic; but it was also an act of love, putting the needs of another person before their own.
One plaque on the wall of the Watts Memorial, highlights the words of Jesus, recorded in the New Testament, in John 15:13. Hours before his own life-giving sacrifice, that is at the heart of the Christian faith, the Lord says to his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."