Wilmcote: Remembering those affected

Over the last six days we’ve been blogging about 1922 Wilmcote accident (see yesterday’s post here), in the lead up to the centenary on 24 March. We’ve also been writing for different audiences – including a piece for the Stratford Herald newspaper and a blog post for The National Archives of the UK. We’d also helped the Railway Chaplain for the area, Andrew Hall, with details for a video tribute, released on the day of the centenary (available here).

However, behind the scenes we were also helping to arrange an event to remember the men and their families, to be held at Wilmcote station. We’re delighted that this happened yesterday, and a number of us were able to meet and pause to remember:

Edward Sherwood

George Booker

Lewis Washburn

William Bonehill

I arrived in Wilmcote with time enough to walk from the station to St Andrew’s church. As I arrived, I saw people by the grave: this turned out to be Lynda Ashby, George Booker’s granddaughter. This was a welcome surprise, as I’d not been expecting to see her on the day. Whilst she couldn’t join the remembrance event at the station, she wanted to pay her respects to her Grandad and to the other men. It was lovely to be able to put a face to the name and voice.

Picture of the graves of the Wilmcote men, including flowers left to remember them.

The graves on the day of the centenary.

 

It was also important to have some time in the churchyard, at the graveside. The flowers and notes that had already been left were touching – particularly those from the Wilmcote station adopters, who had left daffodils, as an echo back to the comment made 100 years ago that the men’s graves were lined by daffodils.

Close up of the shared headstone, showing the inscription and some of the flowers.

The shared headstone, including some of the flowers left on the centenary.

 

A short walk back to the station and I was able to meet some of George Booker’s other grandchildren, Roland and Barbara. They were warm, and happy to discuss their memories of George’s children, including their father Denis.

Wilmcote station, showing two tracks, each with a platform, and a cast-iron footbridge between the two.

Wilmcote station.

 

Representing Lewis Washburn’s family were Judy and Lis, his cousins, twice removed. They shared a huge amount of research already done into other branches of the family, including a wonderful family photo that suffered from the typical issue of lots of people and no names! One of them might have been Lewis, but it was impossible to know.

William Bonehill’s cousin, again twice removed, Denise was also able to join us. A family historian, she’d so far focused on other parts of the family – but said that she was now inspired to find out more about William’s side of the family. We were also interested to learn from the station adopters that within the village’s garden club was the ‘Bonehill cup’ – a further family connection to explore!

People standing on the railway platform at Wilmcote, having marked the centenary of the accident.

Those gathered, after the remembrance.

 

Whilst unfortunately we weren’t able to find any living descendants of Edward Sherwood, what united the families of the other three men was the gratitude at being able to remember their relatives. Whilst not the reason we set the project up, it is definitely an important purpose to which the project work is being put.

The station adopters turned out in force, which added another layer of connection to the local community. This was a nice nod back to the ways in which the railway had, at the time of the accident, been important to the village community. The adopters have done a fantastic job with the station, too, so it looks great. Particularly with so many of the original buildings, including the footbridge, remaining and maintained in good condition, it was possible to get a sense of the station as it might have appeared to the men in 1922.

Andrew Hall, Railway Chaplain for the area, led the remembrance. What was very fitting was that he checked with those gathered to see which of families were represented, including them in the remembrance. He spoke about the men and the accident, and the families left behind – as well as the importance of safety in the current industry.

We paused for a minute to remember the men. It was a beautiful, warm day, in a quiet, rural setting – making it harder to reconcile with the tragic events 100 years before.

Talking with Ian, the Station Master, was a further point of connection between past and present. In conversations with all the idea of the ‘railway family’ came up: the way the railway had a sense of belonging and community. For Ian, immersed in that world 100 years after the accident, the railway family was alive and well. In most cases that brought great satisfaction – seen in both Ian and Andrew’s interactions with the train crews who stopped at the station during our time there.

However, the sad side was also present – the accidents. Ian noted the difficulty of dealing with accidents, especially when they involved someone known personally. That included the worry about the duty phone going off when he was on call: what will it be? If an accident: do I know them? Aspects of railway work remain difficult to this day.

Talking afterwards with John and Jill, husband and wife station adopters, was a happy way to end the proceedings – including an idea about how to mark the accident and remember the men in a more permanent form: watch this space. There was a real sense of local community interest in the accident, which was heartening. And there was another possible accident to explore in the future, in order to try to ensure all those who suffered through accidents at work were remembered. That’s something the project will try to help with, of course.

Indeed, we’d encourage station adopters and local communities to make use of project work and resources to remember staff accidents in their areas. If you do this, do please let us know – we’re always keen to help with initiatives like this if we can, and we’d definitely like to know about how the project work is helping.

We’d like to finish where we started, in two ways. Firstly, thanking all those who’ve helped mark the centenary of the Wilmcote accident:

  • the descendants of the four men;
  • the Heart of England Community Railway Partnership, especially Julia Singleton-Tasker;
  • the Wilmcote station adopters, especially John Philips;
  • Wilmcote’s station master, Ian Taylor;
  • the Railway Mission and the Railway Chaplain for the area, Andrew Hall;
  • the RMT Union;
  • The National Archives of the UK, especially Chris Heather, Sarah Ahmed & Rob Chipperfield;
  • the Stratford Herald, especially Richard Howarth and Simon Woodings;
  • TrinityMirror, especially Fergus McKenna;
  • West Midlands Railway;
  • Network Rail.

 

And secondly, by remembering the men who died, and the families they left behind:

Edward Sherwood

George Booker

Lewis Washburn

William Bonehill

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