The Princess Royal and Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, both took part in events to mark the centenary of Britain’s worst rail disaster.
The 1915 rail disaster at Quintinshill has been marked by memorials at Leith, Larbert, Gretna Green and Quintinshill. A hundred years on, the events commemorated the tragedy that killed 227 soldiers of the Royal Scots Leith Battalion and 12 others.
The soldier’s troop train left Larbert at 03.42 on 22 May 1915 – as marked by a commemorative plaque on the station’s southbound platform. On the evening of 21 May, the town remembered these men with a procession and service. The procession was led by the local Camelon Pipe Band which had given the departing troop train its send off in 1915.
Following the crash, the band was inspired to join the Royal Scots en masse to replace the pipers killed. The procession from the Old Parish Church to Larbert station also included military representatives, school children and local dignitaries. A short service was held at the station car park in the presence of a few hundred people.
The following day, more than a hundred relatives of victims and survivors were at Gretna Green to mark the disaster’s centenary at events attended by Princess Anne, a former Colonel in Chief of The Royal Scots, and Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.
After a short service, wreaths were laid at Quintinshill memorial cairn, which had been unveiled on the 80th anniversary of the crash, in the car park of the old blacksmith’s shop at Gretna Green. Form here trains can be seen passing the crash site half a mile away.
On parade were veterans from the Royal Scots Association and companies from the Royal Regiment of Scotland including its band and the Pipes and Drums from its 1st Battalion.
Act of Remembrance
After the first commemoration, they presented a fine sight and sound as they marched along a local lane to Quintinshill for a further Act of Remembrance at a Network Rail access point by the site of the crash at Blacksike Bridge.
The disaster devastated the Leith community. The day after the crash coffins were brought back to the Battalion’s Drill Hall in Dalmeny Street, Leith. This is now the home of the ‘Out of the Blue’ arts and education trust and, up to 13 August, their Gretna 100 exhibition.
On 24 May, they were taken in procession for burial in a mass grave at Leith’s Rosebank Cemetery a mile away. The funeral procession was lined by 3,150 soldiers and took three hours to pass. The following year, a memorial was erected at the grave together with plaques with the names of those who died.
On 23 May, the Royal Scots veterans and Royal Regiment’s band, pipes and drums and companies followed the route of the funeral procession to march through the streets of Leith from the Drill Hall to a service at the Rosebank Cemetery, where Princess Anne was again in attendance. For the general public, this service was shown on a large screen in the adjacent Pilrig Park. So ended three days of quite poignant commemorations at Larbert, Gretna and Leith.
Report by David Shirres