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The British officer who was struck by lightning four separate times

Kristin Thomas

Whether you consider yourself lucky or unlucky, in life you’re inevitably left to play the hand of cards you’re dealt. But what if your hand included four strikes of lightning? That was indeed the case for Walter Summerford, who was hit by lightning three separate times–and once more after he was laid to rest.

According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, the odds of being struck by lightning in your lifetime are estimated to be 1 in 13,000. A bolt of lightning surging through your body can reach up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is roughly five times hotter than the sun’s surface. Luckily, the mortality rate from a lightning strike is relatively low, but the majority of survivors are left with profound cardiovascular and neurological complications.

Major Walter Summerford was a British officer who went to battle in the First World War. In 1918, during a time when most soldiers were attempting to dodge bullets, one soldier was hit with a shocking surprise. Walter was galloping on his horse through a field in Belgium when lightning first struck him. Upon impact, he was flung off of his horse and left paralyzed from the waist down.

Lightning by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (1909)

Lightning by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (1909)

Forced into early retirement, Walter started a new life in Vancouver, Canada. He had been an avid sportsman and was engaged in many of the wondrous outdoor activities his new home had to offer. In 1924 Walter set off to fish along the shore of a local river. Little did he know, he was resting under the wrong tree at the wrong time. Without warning, a lightning bolt struck the tree Walter was under and surged through him, which resulted in the entire right side of his body being paralyzed.

Miraculously, he recovered from the second bout of Mother Nature’s electric slashing and regained the use of his legs. After two years, he was able to walk and spent the majority of his time doing so.

Thunder, lightning, and rain on a stormy summer night.

Thunder, lightning, and rain on a stormy summer night.

On a warm summer day in 1930, Walter decided to take a scenic stroll through a park. As fate would have it, this would be his last. The soft summer sky drew in dark, ominous clouds that rumbled with a sound all too familiar for Walter. For the third time in his life, a lightning bolt charged down from the sky, directly hitting him with so much force he was completely paralyzed.

In an unfortunate two-year struggle due to the complications caused by his last lightning accident, Walter passed away in 1932. Surrounded by family and friends as they mourned his death, he was laid to rest in the Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver. While one might assume he was finally at peace, think again.

They say Mother Nature is fickle, but I would not go as far as calling her forgetful. On a crisp Spring night in 1936, another storm would prove to defy the already outrageous odds. While Walter rested underground in his grave, four years after his death, another lightning strike would come hurtling from the skies. Out of all the places it could hit–it was right through his gravestone.

While lightning research has been conducted for centuries, it was Benjamin Franklin who performed the first scientific study. As the advance in technology progresses and scientists are capable of more in-depth research and observation, we’re still left with so many unanswered questions. For instance, we’re still unsure how a thundercloud gets charged up in the first place or how a spark of lightning is triggered.

Related story from us: Ann Hodges, the only person struck by a meteorite who survived it, suffered a nervous breakdown after a media frenzy and a court battle for meteorite ownership

While much remains a mystery, when it comes to Walter Summerford, who was struck by lightning every six years between 1918 and 1936, it’s safe to say he is one of the unluckiest people in history.


Kristin Thomas is a freelance journalist currently residing in the port city of A Coruña, Spain. She studied Communications in California and has a keen interest in pre-1970’s pop culture, history of occultism, and the obscure.