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Trap & Drag – 1914 style

In this guest post, project supporter Peter Munro looks at a passenger accident from 1914 – what would today be known as a ‘trap and drag’ incident, something that the Rail Accident Investigation Branch flagged as a real concern on our recent visit to its Farnborough office.

Peter has also helped the project in a further really important way – by doing a day’s preliminary exploration in the National Records of Scotland, looking at potential Scottish accident records that might one day be fed into the project. We’ll be blogging about that in the future: watch this space!

We’re grateful to Peter for his contributions – and if anyone else fancies getting involved (in the research or by contributing a guest blog), please just get in touch!


In July last year, I received a query through the Borders Family History Society website, from someone named Jenny. Unfortunately her email address contained an error, so I couldn’t contact her directly.

She wrote, “There is a family story that my 3x great aunt, a Ms Thomson, was a nurse at Dingleton (a former mental asylum) during World War I. One wintry day, she got her coat caught in a train door and was dragged along the platform at Melrose station. She was said to be severely injured and extensively bruised and unable to work for a long time. I’m wondering whether that accident appears in the records. I appreciate it’s not much to go on.”

Unfortunately, I can’t look at these records as they are at the National Records of Scotland, however I did take photographs of some Galashiels, Peebles and St Boswells accident summary reports while doing some research for the University of Portsmouth ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ Project. There was an accident in late 1914 (the date isn’t on the photograph) at Galashiels station which reads “Attempted to board train in motion and was dragged along platform. Injury to spine. Nurse Thomson, Melrose Asylum, Melrose. (Paid) In full £40. 2nd February 1915: Passed Dr Henderson’s account, 5 guineas.”

Galashiels station 1939.
Courtesy Britain from Above

That seems very similar to the family story, even though the accident was at Galashiels station instead of Melrose station and there’s no mention of the nurse’s coat getting stuck in the door. However, the accident book should be searched for Melrose accidents, too.

Galashiels station 1897.
Courtesy National Library of Scotland maps

Initially, I failed to find a newspaper account of the accident at Galashiels and that’s surprising, £40 compensation was a significant amount in 1915, however, perhaps the newspaper article hadn’t yet been digitised or isn’t indexed with the words that I used in my search. There would have been a more detailed railway account but that seems not to have survived. It’s a pity that Jenny didn’t state Nurse Thomson’s name or her residential address. If she doesn’t know that, it might be worth searching the 1911 census for Melrose (in case she was on duty at Dingleton) and Galashiels.

Almost two months later, I found a newspaper account in the Southern Reporter, a newspaper that covers the Scottish Borders region in south-east Scotland.

Thursday 8 October 1914: “On Saturday night, a nurse from the asylum, was the victim of a nasty accident at Gala station. She had spent the evening with another nurse and on entering the station to return, asked a member of staff if the train she saw was the Pullman she intended to take. On being told that it was, she stepped into the train and received from the other, a few parcels. The other nurse then stepped on to the footboard. The train started with a jolt, with the result that the nurse fell. Several people raised the alarm and the train pulled up. The poor girl who had lost consciousness was carried in to the guards van, taken to Melrose, where a cab was called to take her to the asylum. She sustained severe injury to her back and on Sunday morning she was removed to the Royal Infirmary. Edinburgh.”


Peter Munro, Borders Family History Society

Parts of the article about Nurse Thomson’s accident have appeared in two editions the Border Telegraph (local to the Galashiels area) and in the Peeblesshire News.

Peter Munro writes a weekly history column in the Border Telegraph and the Peeblesshire News newspapers. He also wrote/edited 5 publications about Poor Law in the Scottish Borders, gives talks about aspects of history that interest him, and is the webmaster for Borders Family History Society. He writes short stories, mostly under the name Peter Zentler-Munro, too.


  1. Gordon Dudman

    These little stories help tell us so much of day-to-day life a hundred years or so ago.

    Clearly there was no close at hand medical/first-aid help. Getting her back to the hospital in Melrose was clearly seen as a good idea at the time. Then there is the notion of standing on the running board to give a last farewell to a companion on the train. It was still a common practice well into the 1960s.

    Local newspapers are a mine of information. Snippets from national and regional papers were included to give a picture of the world beyond the local area. The number of times the John O’Groats Journey appears in newspaper searches is remarkable. It also gives a suggestion that they had an erudite readership who wanted to know these things.

    My final thoughts are on the degree to which personal misfortune is given quite a lot of detail. Now we might simply describe injuries as “Life changing” or “Life threatening”. Then we got an lot of gory detail!

    • Mike Esbester

      Thanks Gordon – and whole-heartedly agree with all of your observations, especially about the value of looking at these very ‘mundane’ accidents for what they tell us about the assumptions and priorities of the time – and the changing tastes about an acceptable level of gory detail!

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