A film and some words about Britain’s worst rail disaster

Napoleon Bonaparte Kerr. What a name. What a man. A boy, really, like
so many of them were: 21-years-old. He´d probably rarely left
Edinburgh, his name the only piece of escapism living on Parsons Green
Terrace in Meadowbank brought.

The names get you first. Then the addresses. Then finally the ages
punch you in the stomach. Williams, Johns, Georges and Roberts.
Canongate, Commercial Street, Market Street and Leith Walk. 16s, 17s,
18s and 21s.

What could they have done, what mountains could they have conquered,
were their lives not purged by heinous fate? Gallant enough to sign up
for war in some alien hell, and so surely bold enough to make lives
worthy, and even great.

They would have become husbands and fathers, too. Loved by more people
than just the heartsore Mums and Dads and sisters they left behind.
One Mum wore black for the rest of her days, every minute and hour
itself a trawl and a trauma.

There is, too, an odd sadness that they never got to war. Afterall,
the vile odds were stacked against them – they were bound for
Gallipoli, another hellpot which killed its own generation of young
people. But they had set out with purpose and – let´s not tint this
with romance, for it is all black – to escape. These were lads who
shared beds with siblings, who scrapped for work at the docks. Food
was sometimes a privilege.

On that May day – a sunny one, and isn´t our little country the
brawest place on earth when the sun remembers to smile? – 500 of them
set out. What did they talk about aboard those old, wizened carriages?
Lassies they´d miss and bosses they wouldn´t? “Ah ken you, do I not?”
How hot will it be out there? Are you Hibs or Hearts?

The train pelted south. Imagine the countryside tripping by like a
film. Fond looks at familiar lands? Then lads laughing as wheels
bumped and jolted them. Somewhere ahead, railwaymen, railwaymen in a
casual mood, set their fate. Signals were not sent out. The troop
train struck another. An express engine clattered in.

The rest was hell and fire. Over 200 lives became names upon a list.
The parents of Napoleon Bonaparte Kerr wept rivers. It was all
Edinburgh could do.

Gretna procession


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