ABOUT 1,000 people, including descendants of those who died, attended a service to commemorate Britain’s worst rail disaster.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the Princess Royal were among those gathered at Rosebank Cemetery in Edinburgh to remember the people who perished 100 years ago in the Quintinshill crash, near Gretna on the Border.
The disaster claimed the lives of more than 200 troops, most of whom came from the Leith, Portobello and Musselburgh areas in and around the Scottish capital.
Several of the relatives of those who died had travelled from overseas to attend the service at the place where many of the soldiers are now buried.
It was early in the morning of 22 May, 1915, when a train packed with First World War troops travelling from Larbert, Stirlingshire, collided with a local passenger service.
A Glasgow-bound express train then smashed into the wreckage at the Quintinshill signal box, setting off a devastating fire which engulfed the troop train, packed with nearly 500 members of the Leith Battalion of the Royal Scots.
‘Almost every family in Leith was affected by this tragedy’
At least 214 soldiers of all ranks and 12 civilians were killed. Another 246 people were injured.
The troops were on their way to Liverpool, where they were due to sail to the frontline of the war in Gallipoli.
Royalty, politicians, military veterans and relatives of the victims also marked the anniversary with a service in Gretna on Friday.
The day after the crash, according to the Royal Scots website, 107 coffins were taken back to Edinburgh and were placed in the battalion’s drill hall in Dalmeny Street.
The following day, 101 coffins were taken in procession along a route lined with more than 3,000 soldiers for burial in a mass grave at the nearby Rosebank Cemetery.
The Royal Scots Association – supported by members of the 1st, 2nd and 6th Battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, the descendant regiment of The Royal Scots – held yesterday’s commemoration event, which began with a parade from Dalmeny Street to the cemetery.
After the service, the troops paraded along East Claremont Street, where the Princess Royal, patron of the Royal Scots Association, took the salute.
Andy Kay, a member of the association, said the crash had a profound impact on the battalion and the community.
“In those days, of course, there was no such thing as social security … there was
a collection which took £4,000, which in those days, 1915, was a huge sum of money,” he said.
“That went towards partly building a memorial, and the money that was left went to relatives of the crash, and they also donated a bed to Leith Hospital.”
John Edward, the great-grandson of Private James McSherry, who was killed, has spent the past year reaching out to descendants.
“We wanted to make sure that no-one on the Sunday morning would be turning around and saying ‘I wish I had known about it, I wish I had had the chance to remember my ancestors’,” he said.
“So we got a Facebook page, we had lots in local radio, local newspapers, local historians were hard at work, and we just got the message out to them.
“Even in March we only had 30, and now we’ve got 150 coming here in the sunshine today, from Jersey, Ontario, the Isle of Wight, Wales, all over the place.”
Edward said the service also reminded the wider community about the rail crash.
“I think because it was swamped with Gallipoli and all the other great battles in 1916 and 1917, it was a relatively small number of people in the big scheme of things, but it had a huge impact for Leith, Edinburgh and Musselburgh.”
The Rev Iain May, the minister for South Leith Parish Church, who led the commemoration, discovered only weeks ago that his great uncle, 24-year-old Private John May, was among the victims.
He said: “Almost every family in Leith was affected by this tragedy. The motto of Leith is ‘persevere’, and they did, but this is a reminder that we shouldn’t forget.”