Leith community to honour Gretna rail crash victims

Craig Maughan, Fraser Anderson, Bryan Maughan, Maria Leslie and Terry Phillips at Pilmeny Youth Centre. Picture: Scott Taylor
Craig Maughan, Fraser Anderson, Bryan Maughan, Maria Leslie and Terry Phillips at Pilmeny Youth Centre. Picture: Scott Taylor
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ALMOST a century ago the Leith community was shattered by the worst train disaster on British soil.

Of the 216 from the 7th Battalion Royal Scots who perished in the Quintinshill rail disaster near Gretna Green, 129 were from Leith.

A view of the Gretna Green rail disaster on 22 May 1915. Picture: TSPL

A view of the Gretna Green rail disaster on 22 May 1915. Picture: TSPL

Now youngsters from the area will play a central role in the centenary attended by The Princess Royal.

Members of the Pilmeny Youth Centre and students from the Leith Academy will spray 216 chalk poppies on the pavements, marking the route taken by the funeral procession.

They will plant the same number of crosses close to the Gretna Memorial at Rosebank Cemetery ahead of the military parade and memorial service on May 23.

Project manager Bryan Maughan, who runs the centre, said children had taken part in a valuable history lesson.

Youngsters have spent hours of painstakingly research, poring through death certificates and census records to create a fuller picture of the victims – their names, their ranks, their addresses, even their jobs.

They have helped create two poignant works of art – a “Tree of Life” and a plaque – recording the roll-call of those who perished in the disaster.

Mr Maughan said: “Some of the youngsters live in some of the streets where some of these guys lived and you can really see it resonating with them.

“In 40 years’ time, when they pass these memorials with their children or grandchildren, I hope they say ‘I helped to build that’.”

The tree bears 216 glass identification disks with the name and age of each of the fallen and will stand on permanent display in the Drill Hall on Dalmeny Street, while the plaque has been made from kiln-fired glass and contains a central epitaph to those who perished in the disaster.

The project, entitled Remembering the Leith Battalion, was funded from £7300 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

On the day, a military parade will march from the former Dalmeny Street Drill Hall to the cemetery. There will then be a service and wreath-laying in the presence of The Princess Royal at the site of the mass grave and memorial.

john.connell@edinburghnews.com