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The 1931 Linslade Railway Disaster

Wreckage of the carriages at the scene
Wreckage of the carriages at the scene [Z50/72/176]

The following is an edited version of an article which occurred in the Leighton Buzzard Observer on Tuesday 24th March 1931:

Railway Disaster at Leighton Station

Scotch Express Wrecked

Six Killed: Five Injured
Main Line Blocked

The long immunity of the Leighton Buzzard district from railway disasters was broken on Sunday morning. A Scotch Express train fouled the points south of the station and left the line. The engine was overturned, five coaches completely wrecked, and the whole of the main line blocked. Fortunately by a combination of circumstances, the loss of life was comparatively small, being six persons killed with five injured.

The Royal Scot [actually the Grenadier Guardsman, of the Royal Scot class], one of the finest and fastest trains in the world, was wrecked a few yards south of Leighton Buzzard station at 12:21 on Sunday morning. The train leaves Euston at 11.30 and runs non-stop to Crewe. During the week-end some repairs were being executed on the rails on which it would have continued to travel through Leighton Buzzard station, and this necessitated the express passing over to another set of rails. At the points the train, which according to most accounts, was not travelling at an excessive speed, was de-railed, and in a second or two the engine and coaches were strewn across the track. The engine itself turned completely on its side, and the five succeeding coaches at right angles to the rails and were shattered, completely blocking the whole of the main line. In fact the wrecked train took the shape of a "T" with the engine projecting from the top of the "T". The broken coaches were the horizontal line and the remaining coaches, which were parallel with the rails, formed the stem of the letter. Only the last bogie on the last coach was actually on the rails. A horse-box which was standing on one of the lines was involved in the smash and was covered in debris.

As it happened the first four coaches had very few occupants. They were a brake car, a kitchen car, a restaurant car and a vestibule coach. Lunch was about to be called and there were very few passengers in the restaurant car, and although it was turned on its side, its occupants were able to climb out of the windows.

The Leighton Buzzard station master Mr.Pearce, hurried to the wreck immediately, and was at once joined by a number of local residents. These included Mr.Medcraft, Mr.Hampson, Mr.G.W.Hedges, ex-Inspector Walker, Mr.Gregory and two local constables. Their numbers were swollen every minute by willing helpers. They found the passengers descending from the train or climbing out of the wreckage, and they bear testimony to the absence of excitement among the men and women who had had so alarming an experience. Doctors, ambulance men and break-down gangs arrived in quick succession, and the wounds of the slightly injured were attended to. It was found, however, that two women, Mrs.Lang and her daughter, were so completely buried in the wreckage that the task of extricating them would be an extremely long one. Nearly four hours elapsed before Mrs.Lang and her daughter could be released from their compartment, and the girl died in the Royal Bucks Hospital, Aylesbury, at five o'clock on Monday morning.

The presence of these injured passengers and the fear that there might be others in the wreckage made the work of the break-down gangs extremely slow. At four o'clock, however, doubts had been dispelled and rapid progress was then made. Four steam cranes were at work on the debris, and by ten o'clock at night the main line had been sufficiently cleared to allow two expresses to pass - the postal train and the Irish Mail. It was found, however, necessary to block the lines with the cranes, and they were not cleared again until yesterday.

Motor Omnibus services from Bletchley to Leighton Buzzard, Cheddington and Tring and vice-versa were used to bridge the gap in the meantime. The first train through to London yesterday was the 9.6 a.m. express from Bletchley. By 11 a.m. the passenger service was almost normal.

Monday morning's newspapers from London were brought by train as far as Tring, and thence by motor van.

Killed

SIR GEORGE SALTMARSH (61), the old Vicarage, Sandridge, near St.Albans.
Henry M.NAFTALIN, Clyde Street, Glasgow.
DOROTHY LANG, Lindore, Newark Street, Greenock. Severe leg injury; died in hospital.
Thomas Henry HUDSON (51), Quadrant Grove, Malden Road, N.W., driver of the train.
Sidney ROGERS (28), Queen's Crescent, Kentish Town, fireman of the train.
J.TAYLOR (21), Almorah Road, Islington, N., dining-car cook. 

Injured

The following were taken to the Royal Bucks Hospital at Aylesbury: -
Mrs.LANG (mother of Dorothy Lang). Serious leg injury.
WILLIAM SNELL, Kingsford Road, Watford. Injured ribs and right knee; condition serious, but not critical.
ERNEST MERRITT, a railway clerk, Station House, Wheelock, Sandbach, Cheshire. Injury to back and scalp wounds; condition serious.
SIDNEY VINEY, Holmlea Road, Glasgow. Severe head wounds.
LIEUT. E.GODDARD, R.N., of Shawford, near Winchester, was taken to the Bute Hospital, Luton, with severe cuts. 

In addition many passengers received minor injuries.

The railway company took immediate steps to convey the uninjured passengers on the express to their destinations, shuttle trains being worked from Bletchley. Later in the day trains came from Cheddington and Bletchley directions, and the passengers walked along the lines to resume their journeys on the other side. Motor omnibuses were also used.

The rescuers and break-down gangs worked all Sunday night, and in the early hours of the morning another dead man - the fireman, who had been pinned under the engine - was removed from the wreckage. The last man to be removed was the cook, who was underneath the wreckage of the kitchen car, and he was extricated at nine o'clock on Monday morning.

All the bodies were removed to a waiting room which has been made into a temporary mortuary, and at 10.30 a.m. this morning (Tuesday) the Coroner will open the inquest on the victims. It is expected that only formal evidence will be given.

Eye-witness stories

Mr.Wilfred Durrell, of Southcourt Avenue, Linslade, whose house is only about 100 yards from the scene of the accident, was one of the few eye-witnesses. He was working in his back garden when the grinding of brakes attracted his attention. He looked up, and was just in time to see the engine wobble and turn over on to its side. The two coaches immediately behind the engine shot up into the air and collapsed across the permanent way. The train did not seem to him to be travelling at more than 30 miles per hour. Mr.Durrell immediately telephoned for the local doctors and the police.

Mr.W.A.Evans, of Wing Road, Linslade, was on the bridge and saw the train as it overturned. "I did not wait to see what had happened" said Mr.Evans. "I knew help would be needed, so I ran for the police".

"My wife saw the train turn over", declared a perspiring rescuer, as he gulped down a glass of water. "She said there was no noise, but she saw sparks fly up just as if fireworks were being let off. Then there was a great cloud of steam". The man would say no more, but turned and again, renewed his strenuous efforts.

The speed of the train

A man who saw the train shortly before it turned over, declared that it was travelling far slower than usual. "Had it been going at its usual speed" he added significantly, "this" - with a wave of his hand at the wreckage "would have been in the station". Some of the passengers also said that that the speed was moderate.

One passenger said he was drinking a glass of beer at the moment, and the speed of the train was not enough to shake it. A spectator put the speed at 30 miles an hour and others at "not more than forty".

Passengers' experiences

Mr.W.S.Gallie, of Lenzie, a well-known Scottish business man said, "I had a miraculous escape. At Euston station the only first class carriages I could find were at the very front of the train. A porter put me in the second coach, but I did not like it and I went into the next one, which was immediately behind the engine. Just before the accident I had strolled along the corridor and was washing my hands. Suddenly there was a grinding of brakes and a tearing noise. I was thrown on to the floor, and realising that there had been an accident I stayed there. The roof and sides fell in, but I saw a hole about two feet square in the floor, through which I managed to crawl. I was uninjured, and the only damage I suffered was a tear in my trousers".

Mr.James Troy, a member of the Glasgow Orpheus Choir, which broadcast from the Queen's Hall on Saturday night, said: "About half of our party were returning on the train the other half having gone to Chequers. Fortunately we were in the very middle of the train and none of us was even scratched. Our coach was the last one to be de-railed; it was an old Great Western carriage and withstood the shock marvellously. Not even a window was cracked".

Mr.B.Eisen of 28 Sandringham Road, Dalston, has a very unpleasant experience. The first lunch had just been called and Mr.Eisen was sitting in the front dining car when the accident occurred. One side of the carriage fell in and the other side fell out on to the track. He was supporting part of the wreckage on his shoulders when another passenger caught hold of him and clawed his face. Owing to his position he was not able to give any assistance to the unfortunate man, who lost his grip, fell out on to the line and was lost to view. Mr.Eisen managed to extricate himself, and his only injury apart from minor bruises was the scratch on his face.

Mr.James McInnes, a Scottish textile manufacturer, said he was sitting reading when wobbling started. Then he felt the train go off the lines. The carriage in which he was sitting fell over at an angle of 60 or 70 degrees. The glass in the windows was broken, and he crawled out - unhurt.

Mr.W.Webb, a referee of the Scottish F.A., and a member of a part which had visited the England v. Scotland amateur football match, escaped uninjured. He was just making his way up the corridor for lunch when the accident happened. Mr.Webb was thrown to the floor, but seeing a gap managed to crawl through to safety. Mr.H.Hardy, another member of the party, escaped uninjured, although his bowler hat was badly dented. Subsequently the members of the party gathered at the side of the track and the roll was called. Sighs of relief and "Thank God" went up when the leader announced that all the members of their party were safe.

Two girls who were in a carriage near the middle of the train said the floor opened beneath them, and they were deposited on the track. They were only scratched".

Leighton Buzzard Station about 1920
Leighton Buzzard station about 1920 [Z1306/74]

The article goes on at some length about the rescue work, some incidents around the crash and the gratitude of the railway company for all the help received. The following week the Leighton Buzzard Observer reported on the funerals, official enquiry and coroner's inquest. At the official enquiry the Linslade signalman, Thomas Richard Troughton, stated that the train had gone through two danger signals and was travelling at 55 miles per hour when it reached the cross-over from the fast to the slow line. The signalman at Cheddington also estimated that when it passed his signal box five minutes before the accident the train was travelling at 60 miles per hour. On that Sunday trains were being diverted from the fast to the slow line just south of Leighton Buzzard station due to work on the line and it seemed that the driver either missed or ignored the signals to slow down for the switch and was simply travelling at the normal speed for a Sunday express, which was, on this particular day, much too fast.

At the inquest it was revealed that: J.Taylor, the dining car cook had died from severe abdominal injuries; Sir George Saltmarsh had suffered a fractured pelvis and severe abdominal wounds; the driver, Thomas Henry Hudson had suffered a fractured skull and his right leg had been almost amputated; the fireman, Sidney Rogers had severely crushed legs and a scalded face, death being as a result of shock; Miss Lang's legs were severely crushed and morphine had been administered at the scene, one of her legs was amputated in hospital but she ultimately died from a loss of blood at the scene of the accident; Henry Naftalin died from a fractured skull, he was also badly scalded. The newspaper reported: "…a man in the Court stood up and said: "Can I ask a question. I am Sidney Rogers' father." With tears in his eyes, he asked Dr.Bolton: "Did my son die quickly?" Dr.Bolton said Rogers was examined about ten minutes after the accident by Dr.Square and was the dead".