Britain’s Worst Rail Disaster

May 22nd, 2015

At 6.50 in the morning of May 22nd 1915, 100 years ago today, Britain suffered its worst rail crash. More than 200 people died in two crashes involving three trains on the Caledonian Railway at Quintinshill near Gretna in the Scottish borders.

A train loaded with 500 soldiers, from the 1/7th (Leith) Battalion the Royal Scots on their way to Liverpool to board a troop ship to Gallipoli, crashed into a stationary passenger train near the border. Then, just one minute later, an express crashed into the wreckage.

The demands of the War had led to increased rail traffic. Added to this, the train carriages, pressed into service from the Great Central Railway, were gas lit, as were many trains of the age. The gas was stored in cylinders under the carriages and had been freshly filled before the train left Larbert.

The gas cylinders were ignited by the express crashing into the wreckage and the ensuing conflagration was so fierce that the bodies of many soldiers could not be identified. They were buried in a mass grave at Rosebank Cemetery, Edinburgh.

Such was the scale of the disaster almost every family in Leith felt its effect.

Incredibly, on their return to Edinburgh, the surviving Royal Scots soldiers looked so bedraggled that local children assumed them to be enemy prisoners and taunted them in the street.

Responsibility for the crash is still quite contentious, although the signalmen were found responsible at an investigation and jailed, some blame the rail company for failings which led to the crash.