One hundred years ago 216 men from the 1st/7th (Leith) Battalion of The Royal Scots lost their lives, and a further 220 were injured, at Quintinshill, just north of Gretna, in what is still Britain’s worst rail disaster. The men were on their way to serve in Gallipoli during World War One.
Today Leith Academy pupils were joined by Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Angela Constance, as they sprayed poppies along the funeral procession route taken 100 years ago and which a military parade will follow this Saturday (May 23).
The poppy painting is just one part of a seven month project organised by Pilmeny Youth Centre, and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, that involves 16 S3 pupils from Leith Academy’s Princes Trust XL Club.
The 14 and 15 year old pupils have made a glass tablet listing the names of the 216 casualties with a stained glass poppy wreath as the centre-piece, created a ‘Tree of Life’ displaying 216 stained glass ID tags in partnership with local artist Heather Scott of Hide & Seek Art Glass and Out of the Blue Arts Centre and will put 216 miniature crosses next to the memorial in Rosebank Cemetery where most of those killed were buried in a communal grave.
Pilmeny Youth Centre project manager Bryan Maughan, explains:
“The projects have really brought to life the impact the Quintinshill disaster had on the Leith community. Creating a stained glass tag for each soldier that lost his life and asking the current inhabitants of the flats and houses that the soldiers lived in before heading off on that fateful train crash to display a poster in their window about the tragedy made it even more poignant.”
Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Angela Constance, said:
“Quintinshill remains the worst rail disaster in British history and I was honoured to be part of the commemoration events today with children from Leith Academy. It is important we remember those who lost their lives in this tragic accident 100 years ago and I’m pleased to see the whole community has been involved in marking the anniversary of this tragic event.”
On Saturday a military parade will leave the former Drill Hall of the 1st/7th (Leith Battalion) at 10.15am and make its way to Rosebank Cemetery. A commemoration service will take place at 11.00am at Rosebank Cemetery which will be attended by HRH The Princess Royal, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, The Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell and direct descendants of those killed or injured in the disaster.
The service will be screened live from Rosebank Cemetery on to giant screens within nearby Pilrig Park, where members of the public are invited to attend. It is anticipated no fewer than 1000 people will pay their respects.
Retired Colonel Robert Watson of The Royal Scots said: “One hundred years later the tragedy at Quintinshill remains the worst in British railway history, and the circumstances surrounding it still haunt the communities involved. The extent of the fire on the trains was so severe that over half of those killed couldn’t be identified, and for them to perish in such a horrific way just 100 miles from home is quite incomprehensible.
“We come together to mark the centenary of this disaster, to honour the brave men who were going to fight for their country and didn’t come home, those that were injured and witnessed the horrors, and those that keep their memories alive by continuing their legacy in their communities. I would encourage anyone who would like to be a part of this special commemoration to come along to Pilrig Park and not only take part, but to be a part of history.”
An alternative viewing area for disabled people will be provided within Pilrig St Paul’s Church on the corner of Leith Walk and Pilrig Street. A new BBC docu-drama of the crash, with commentary by Scottish historian Neil Oliver will be shown at 11.00am, followed at 12.00noon by the Service.