“For those lost in the peace and tranquillity of Quintinshill”

24 May 2015

These words appear on the simple plaque on the railway bridge overlooking the site of the worse rail disaster in terms of lost of life in British History.

On Friday 22 May 2015, the Princess Royal and the Scottish First Minister attended a service at the commemoration cairn at  Gretna to remember those  who perished, exactly 100 years after the tragic event.   Following the service and wreath-laying at the cairn, soldiers from The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland and veterans marched the half a mile or so to the crash site, where there was further short service and the Guard of Honour fired three volleys in honour of those who perished.

At 6.49 am, on Saturday 22 May 1915, a Liverpool-bound troop-train carrying half of the  1st/7th Battalion, The Royal Scots, a territorial battalion from Leith, about 498 all ranks; collided head on with a local passenger train that was stationary on the line, at Quintinshill, north of Gretna.  About one minute later, the express bound for Glasgow ploughed into the wreckage, which had toppled onto the north bound line, and immediately burst into flames.

The troop-train consisted of old wooden carriages, lit by gas, which was stored under the floors, ensured that the ensuing fire took 23 hours to fully extinguish.

216 Royal Scots and 12 “Others” died in this tragic accident; and it was said that there was not a family in Leith that had not been affected by the disaster.   The “Others” included two soldiers from 8th Battalion, The Highland Light Infantry (HLI) who were attached to The Royal Scots: Privates James Cook and Robert Leckie.

On the express, three Officers from 9th Battalion, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who were returning for leave in Dunbartonshire – Lieutenant James Bonnar was the son of the Provost of Helensburgh.

The soldiers were bound for Liverpool to travel to join the ill-fated Gallipoli expedition; while those on the express were bound for Glasgow and leave.

Perhaps that most poignant names on the list are from the local train: Mrs Rachel Nimmo, aged 28 years and her baby son, Master Dickson Nimmo.  Although, there were also four unidentified bodies, thought to be children, but as no children were reported missing or came forward to claim the bodies, they were buried in Glasgow’s Western Necropolis.

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Category: History

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