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Distracted in the dark

All of the cases we’re cataloguing in our project database are sad, as at the very least they represent pain having been inflicted. Often they extend into the tragic, with deaths. In some of these cases we can only imagine the misery for the surviving family and friends must have been compounded by the young ages of those involved. We’ve blogged in the past (see here and here) about cases of accident to under 18s; but if there’s one thing we’ve learned during the project, it’s that there always seems to be yet another case that’s just as challenging elsewhere in the records. The tide of occupational death and injury on the railways was unrelenting. Sometimes, though, we find a case makes us stop and pause a moment longer.

One such case happened on 20 March 1914, and involved the deaths of two 15 year old boys. David Wishart and Samuel Young were employed by the Glasgow and Paisley Joint Railway as ‘train-register boys’. They would have worked under the supervision of the signalman in their respective signal boxes, dealing with the more minor (but still essential) tasks – sending minor telegraph/ telephone message, recording train movements in the register and the like.

Map of the locations
The line between Cardonald & Ibrox stations, 1909, very imperfectly stitched together from multiple map sheets. Signal boxes (presumed in the case of Ibrox) are shown in the red circles.
Courtesy National Library of Scotland Maps.

On 20 March both boys finished duty at 10pm, Wishart at Ibrox and Young at Cardonald. Wishart walked the ¾ mile to Cardonald signal box, going ‘along the line’ – whether that meant actually on the tracks, or following the route but beside, isn’t clear. Presumably he and Young were friends; together they walked towards Cardonald station. Inspector JH Armytage’s report was detailed about the fact that they were planning on catching the 10.18pm train to Paisley, so possibly this was a regular occurrence.

Armytage noted that they ‘could have walked from Cardonald signal cabin to Cardonald Station, a distance of about 250 years, without crossing any of the running lines, but for some unknown reason they both got foul’ of one of the lines. Sadly they were hit by a passing ‘light engine’ (i.e. a loco running without pulling anything) and both were killed.

Warning about stepping out of the way of one train & into the path of another, c.1921.
Caledonian Railway 1921 warning about moving out of the way of one train & into the path of another – a similar issue to that described in this post.

Armytage suspected that ‘the lads were watching a passenger train which was passing […] at practically the same time as the light engine.’ This appears to have been a classic case of distraction; possibly the dark of the night contributed to, though lighting was not mentioned in the report. Armytage didn’t moderate his allocation of responsibility: that ‘must rest with the lads’, and Wishart ‘should, of course, have left the Company’s premises at Ibrox’ (1914 Quarter 1, Appendix B).

Interestingly, both boys were locked into their actions by a particular set of institutional and social imperatives which lay largely under the surface of Armytage’s report. Presuming Wishart and Young were friends, as they were both headed to the same station (possibly the same lodgings, depending on if they were living out or with families) of Shields Road, they wanted to catch a train together. Had they gone to their respective closest stations (Wishart: Ibrox; Young: Cardonald), they wouldn’t have been able to do this. Armytage notes that Young had been given a company pass to travel between Cardonald and Glasgow, but as there was no direct service from Cardonald after he finished his shift, he had to go a roundabout route (west to Paisley, then back east to Shields Road). To be companionable it looks like Wishart went the less direct route too – and ultimately that decision might have cost him his life.

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