A day like any other? Christmas Days 1911-14

Network Rail’s recent promo video about the engineering works currently taking place this Christmas is a good reminder that there’s always something happening on our railway network – and that means staff at work. Where there’s work, sadly, there’s danger, even with a greatly reduced passenger service: as well all know, there’s plenty more to the railways than ‘just’ the passengers!

Whilst Christmas Day itself wasn’t ever perhaps a day like any other in many ways, it certainly wasn’t free of accidents in the period of our project. Although only two Christmas Day accidents feature in our database, no doubt a great many more occurred and weren’t investigated. The first we have saw J Anderson, a 20 year-old Goods Porter injured at Keith on the Great North of Scotland Railway. At quarter to eight he bruised his shoulder, side and arm when he was caught between wagons. Standing to one side of the wagons, as he’d no doubt been instructed, he attempted to couple wagons to an engine ‘but his effort was not successful, and the vehicles move away a short distance.’ As he called for the engine to move onto the wagons ‘a man on the opposite side of the down line warned him to beware of a train which was approaching’. He dodged this danger, but in so doing ended up caught between the buffers of the lead wagon and the loco. Inspector Charles Campbell went on to note ‘I think it probable […] that we was startled by the up train, and that he instinctively moved from it and went into the closing space’ between the engine and the wagons. As a result Campbell decided this was a case of misadventure (1911 Quarter 4, Appendix C).

The second case took place in 1914, on the North British Railway and was rather more serious. Fireman FA Kershaw was injured at Cairneyhill in an otherwise routine operation. Kershaw crossed sides of the engine, so that he could enchange the single line tablet (an important passenger safety measure) with a signalman on the platform. However, it appears that he lost his balance ‘and as the side door of the engine was open he fell on the platform. After having been dragged some distance along the platform coping he dropped down on to this line and at least one wheel passed over his left arm. Inspector Campbell presided over the investigation, which decided that the accident was due to inattention of both Drive and Fireman and their failure to realise the cab door was open (1914 Quarter 4, Appendix C).

Dangers of foul crossing from LMS 1924 booklet.

And that was that for Christmas Day, so far as accidents in the database are concerned – at least until 03.30 the following day, when in 1914 Driver Thomas Mepham had his upper lip severely cut at Herne Hill on the South Eastern & Chatham Railway. He was checking his path from the cab window when ‘his mouth came into contact with a box wagon’ left on an adjacent siding ‘too near the converging point of the running line’. Mepham was injured sufficiently to be off duty for 2 ½ weeks. The root of the problem came out in JJ Hornby’s report – Shunter George Cooper had left the wagon foul (i.e. overhanging the next door line), against the rules and ‘informs me that he has been in the habit of leaving vehicles at the converging points in such a position that they would just clear others or engines when passing.’ This was a clear breach of several rules, as was noted in the report. Interestingly, the physical infrastructure was also criticised: ‘if the place had been lighted instead of being in absolute darkness [the workers] might have seen the foul position of the box-wagon in time to have prevented the accident. Given much shunting too place at these sidings, deep into the night, Hornby recommended that the rules which had been broken be complied with strictly in the future and the Company should provide better lighting in the yard (1914 Quarter 4, Appendix C). From this point onwards on Boxing Day, more and more people were having accidents and ‘normal’ service was resumed.

As always, we hope that all our current railway workers – especially those hard at work at the moment – come home safely. Merry Christmas to everyone.

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