Friday, October 18, 2019

Two Fortean tales from the 1915 Quintinshill rail disaster

Embed from Getty Images

Britain's worst railway disaster took place at Quintinshill, just over the Scottish border, in 1915. A double collision followed by a fire killed some 215 people.

The precise death toll was hard to decide exactly. Most of the casualties were members of the Royal Scots regiment, and the roll of soldiers aboard the train was lost in the fire.

In recent days I have come across two intriguing stories connected with Quintinshill.

The first, told on the new Fortean Times message board, talks of a
persistent rumour/legend that a handful of the survivors of the rail crash deserted in its aftermath and travelled east to settle down in the Newcastle area.
It's not impossible: people often use disasters as an opportunity to disappear. And, even with the attentions of the Military Police, it would have been easier to do a century ago than it is today.

But them, as that post suggests, it may just have been a story to console relatives of the diseased. "Our big brother is still alive down in England, but he can't come home."

The second story, mentioned in the Wikipedia entry for Quintinshill, says the bodies of children that were found in the wreckage but never claimed.

This tale is familiar from the Charfield railway crash of 1928, where it is said two children were never claimed, but there were those who said they had seen them aboard the train.

At Quintinshill the children - originally four but now the accepted number seems to be three - are said to have stowed away on one of the three trains involved. It's all very vague.

Still, a memorial has been erected to these unclaimed children and someone is calling for their bodies to be exhumed so that DNA tests can be carried out.

At Charfield the accepted explanation of the unclaimed children seems to be that, after a railway disaster involving a fire, it is hard for the authorities to be sure who or what they are burying and that the children probably never existed.

I fear the same is true of the children of Quintinshill.


crewegwyn said...

I refer the Hon Member to The Quintinshill Conspiracy by J Richards & A Searle (2013) where both are reviewed. Conclusion - desertion very unlikely; the unidentified children possibly of the McClure family, mother, dtr, two grandchildren.

Jonathan Calder said...

Thank you, I shall follow that up.