Members of the public and esteemed personnel gathered at Harrow and Wealdstone Station today in a special remembrance service on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the Harrow and Wealdstone Train Crash.
On 8th October 1952, the worst peacetime rail crash in British history happened at the station when a three-train collision killed 112 people and injured 340 more.
At 8.18am, a Euston express train was delayed due to fog and overshot the signals outside the station. The express struck a stationary train at Harrow and Wealdstone resulting in a tragic loss of life.
In a memorial service organised by Tfl and led by Railway and British Transport Police Chaplain, Andrea Smyth, the public were invited to come along to Harrow & Wealdstone station and pay their respects to those that sadly lost their lives on that day.
The remembrance service was opened by Nick Dent, Director of Customer Operation at TfL, who said: “It’s lovely to see so many of you here today, and I know that includes many families that were so badly affected by the rail tragedy.”
“It’s 70 years ago tomorrow that the most unimaginable tragedy happened, many of you will know that there was a local commuter train, just as there would have been this morning, a very busy station then as it is now, taking people to work to London and down from Tring and Watford and many other local stations. And then an overnight express train from Perth travelling at high speed in very thick, foggy conditions that morning, collided with the back of the local commuter train. Moments later – a third train, an express train making its way out of London to Manchester and Liverpool collided with the wreckage. It would have been the most unimaginable scene,” he said.
“Over half the people that lost their lives were railway staff themselves actually, something that was certainly marked when I started my career many years ago. Many of those people were travelling into work at the old London-Midland offices at Euston Station,” he added.
“We are here to remember those who did sadly lose their lives, in a short service on this very special occasion for us.”
The Mayor of Harrow, Cllr Janet Mote then read the poem: “There is No Night Without a Dawning” by Helen Steiner Rice.
“No winter without a spring
And beyond the dark horizon
Our hearts will once more sing …
For those who leave us for a while
Have only gone away
Out of a restless, care worn world
Into a brighter day”
This was followed by a bible reading of Micah 6:8 by Mercilina Adesida, Train Operations Manager for TfL, and a Multifaith prayer by Gopal Bhachu, Chair of Harrow Interfaith.
The Mayor of Harrow then reflected on the impact the rail crash had, paying tribute to the heroic efforts of medics and personnel at the scene of the accident.
“Of the 340 injured, 183 were treated on-site, and 157 were taken to hospital. The heroes of the hour – a 14-year-old scout, Gilbert Powell, thought to have been the youngest person to help at the Harrow and Wealdstone crash. He attended the 60th anniversary but died the following year aged 75. The reason why Gilbert managed to get in and out of the wreckage was because he was small, and could identify to the rescuers, who needed to be rescued.”
The Mayor also paid tribute to the first emergency response teams who arrived at the station in just 3 minutes.
“Fire Brigade, ambulance and police services assisted by doctors and a medical unit of the USA bases at RAF South Ruislip. This included a lady called Abbie Sweetwine. She was an African-American nurse, and she later became known as the ‘Angel of Platform 6.’ Her tactics used at Harrow, at the crash, proved that getting patients to hospital as fast as possible was amazing, and today it paved the way for the paramedics who we have that triaged,” said the Mayor.
“Today (Friday) marks the start of an exhibition to mark 70 years since the accident, remembering the lives lost, as well as the heroes that took part in the initial response and this is at the gallery at Harrow Arts Centre until Sunday 6th November, and I do hope that all of you will find time to actually go and see that exhibition.”
The names of all 112 souls that lost their lives that day were then read out by The Mayor, Nick Dent, Mercilina Adesida and Gopal Bhacu followed by 112 seconds of silent reflection for each.
Wreaths and flowers were laid under the memorial outside the front entrance of the station. The memorial service was closed by Andrea Smyth, Railway and British Transport Police Chaplain in London, who read a prayer and thanked everyone for attending.