Soldiers on way to Gallipoli were caught up in rail crash inferno

Quintinshill Rail Disaster
Quintinshill Rail Disaster
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Britain’s worst rail disaster - Quintinshill near Gretna - is to be remembered at a centenary parade and commemoration service on Thursday, May 21.

The collision resulted in the death of two Bo’ness servicemen and seriously injured another as they headed south to meet up with a boat heading for Gallipoli.

The majority of those killed were soldiers travelling on a Larbert to Liverpool service, drawn largely from the 1/7th (Leith) Battalion, the Royal Scots.

The regiment had been camped at the Tryst, Stenhousemuir, for several weeks and was travelling to Liverpool docks en route to the front at Gallipoli in Turkey.

The disaster occurred at 6.50am on May 22, 1915, when the troop train travelling from Larbert collided with a local passenger service that had been shunted on to the main line.

An express train, travelling at speed to Glasgow crashed into the wreckage a minute later with horrifying and devastating results. The gas lights fitted in the train carriages, which themselves were wooden built, created an inferno.

The accident was later found to have been caused by poor working practices on the part of two signalmen, George Meakin and James Tinsley, who were subsequently jailed for culpable homicide.

The former worked night shift at a nearby signal box and was supposed to be relieved by the latter at 6am. However, the two men had an informal arrangement allowing Tinsley to arrive later, coming by train, rather than walking the 1.5 miles from Gretna.

In order to hide their malpractice they ignored the correct procedures on recording train movements leading to the disaster.

Of the two Bo’ness deaths recorded, the first was that of Thomas Barnett, a private in the Royal Scots 7th Battalion.

He was the son of George Barnett, a boot repairer, of South Street, Bo’ness.

Having been discharged from the Royal Field Artillery due to an injury, he re-presented himself for active service at Blackness Castle during a recruiting campaign for the 7th Royal Scots.

It was reported in the Linlithgowshire Gazette at the time that Thomas had married shortly before he met his death on May 22, 1915, and that his wife continued to live at Corbiehall after his untimely death.

The second death was of Andrew Williamson, also a private in the 7th Royal Scots.

He lived with his widowed mother at Cowdenhill, Grangepans, and was the youngest sone of the late George Williamson.

Andrew had previously been employed as a miner before enlisting. His age at the time of his death was given as being 19 years old.

The one local survivor was Albert Munro of 14 Mayfield Terrace, Grangepans. The Linlithgowshire Gazette reported that Albert’s survival was solely down to the fact that he was travelling in a carriage located halfway down the train and had managed to jump from a window just before the collision occurred.

Further research seems to suggest that Albert survived the war as no record can be found on either the Bo’ness War Memorial or the list of soldiers who perished during the Great war of 1914-1919.

The commemoration will take place at Larbert Church at 7pm. A parade will leave Larbert Station at 6.40pm.

After the terrible tragedy came the grim funerals...

A number of bodies were never recovered, having been completely consumed by the fire, and when the bodies of the men of the Royal Scots were returned to Leith on May 24, they were buried together in a mass grave in Edinburgh’s Rosebank Cemetery.

The bodies were escorted by the 15th and 16th Battalions Royal Scots,and the Edinburgh Pals battalions recently assembled and still undergoing training. The cortege took four hours to complete its sad task.

The coffins were laid three deep with each on the top row covered in the Union flag with the deceased being afforded a burial with full military honours.

The public was excluded although 50 wounded servicemen who were convalescing at a nearby military hospital were allowed to attend.

The ceremony lasted three hours at the end of which a volley of three shots was fired and the Last Post played.

A memorial was erected in Rosebank Cemetery in 1916.

Of the troops, 83 bodies were identified. Eighty-two were recovered but unrecognisable and 50 were missing altogether giving a total of 215 but which was later revised by the army to 214.

Among the coffins were four bodies which were unidentified. One coffin was simply labelled as ‘little girl, unrecognisable,’ and another as ‘three trunks, probably children’.

As no children were reported missing the railway company moved the bodies to Glasgow for possible identification but no one came forward to claim the bodies. The four were buried in Glasgow’s Western Necropolis on May 26 in what was reported as a ‘‘very touching service’’.

The engine crew of the troop train were both from Carlisle and they were also buried on May 26 at the local Stanwix Cemetery.

The final legal inquiry into the disaster was held on November 4, 1915, in Dumfries and was an inquiry under the Fatal Accidents Inquiry (Scotland) Act.