It was a sad day for the community of Gretna Green last weekend. Vandals destroyed a tree that was planted by the Princess Royal earlier this year to honour those who perished in the Quintinshill Rail Disaster.
On May 22, The Princess Royal planted a tree near the railway tracks adjacent to the Quintinshill Bridge to mark the centenary of Britain’s worst rail disaster. Hundreds of residents turned out to watch the commemorations and to attend memorial services held in honour of those who lost their lives. Speaking at the event, Princess Anne said that she was “astonished at how little is known about Quintinshill.”
The Quintinshill Rail Disaster was a devastating train crash on the Caledonian Railway on May 22, 1915. Five trains were involved in the collision, which took place just outside Gretna Green in Dumfries and Galloway and resulted in the death of 227 people and left 246 more injured. Most of the victims were soldiers from the 7th Battalion, the Royal Scots, who were travelling from Larbert to Liverpool. They were due to sail to fight on the front lines at Gallipoli.
In the early hours of the morning, the train carrying the troops collided with a stationary local train. The collision resulted in the wreckage spreading into the path of an express train from Carlisle, which smashed into the crash site, and immediately burst into flames. The fire spread to a goods train and an empty coal waggon that were held in the loop lines, both of which were razed to the ground.
A Board of Inquiry blamed the crash on the two signalmen who were on duty at the time. Their negligence had resulted in the troop train travelling along the same line as the local train. Both men served time in prison, but the real cause of the crash has been the subject of much debate ever since.
A plaque is now on the wall of Larbert Railway Station. It serves as the memory of the brave soldiers who were willing to serve their country in battle, but instead perished on the railway tracks before they had the chance to.
Councillor Archie Dryburgh is the chairperson of the Quintinshill Commemorative Committee. “It is very disrespectful and defies belief that someone would do this. It has been deliberately chopped in half,” he said about the act of vandalism. “It is despicable that someone would do this; very, very disrespectful. We are all totally shocked.”
“The pear tree was planted by Princess Anne, as patron of the Royal Scots Association, near the war memorial with a large number of the community of all ages watching,” Mr Dryburgh added. “As well as being a poignant moment honouring those who died at Quintinshill, it was also a moment of pride for the community remembering also those who did what they could to help 100 years ago.”
The police in Gretna Green believe that the commemorative tree was chopped down in the middle of Friday night and are urging the public to help them identify the culprits. “It beggars belief that someone has carried out such a wanton act of vandalism,” said Constable Andy Aitken. “We are keen to hear from anyone who may have seen or heard anything suspicious in the area of The Green at Gretna Green to get in touch through 101 if they can help.”