The Beighton Rail Disaster - February 1942

The headline in The Times dated Friday 13th February 1942 stated

"Accident To Night Troop Train 14 Killed And Many Injured (News)"
     

The following day The Times disclosed in it's "News In Brief" column

All the men injured in the troop train accident at Beighton near Sheffield late on Wednesday night were reported to be "doing satisfactorily"

The Times dated Monday February 16th 1942 then issues an update

The death of another soldier who was in the troop train smash at Beighton near Sheffield on Wednesday brings the death roll to 14

N.B. There appears some discrepancy in the numbers killed - Friday's edition states that 14 had already died 

The Times dated Thursday February 19th 1942 the issued a report on the resultant inquiry that was opened in Sheffield the previous day

CAUSE OF TROOP TRAIN CRASH


PROJECTING STEEL PLATE

An inquiry into the accident to the troop train at Beighton near Sheffield a week ago in which 14 soldiers were killed and 34 injured was opened at Sheffield by Mr. J. M. Moore, an inspector of the Ministry of War Transport

Mr. E.W. Rostern, assistant superintendent L.N.E.R. said that the train was passing through Beighton at approximately 30 miles an hour when it came into contact with a steel plate which was overhanging from a wagon standing in an adjacent siding. The plate caused damage to the coaches of the train in which were 195 officers and other ranks and 170 sailors. All the sailors escaped injury.

Mr. J.F. Harrison, L.N.E.R. engineer said that eight coaches were damaged, five extensively. He added that the third coach was 3in narrower than the standard width, and was not touched at all. Twelve wagons were damaged in the sidings through the actions of the plate. The inspector said that it was obvious that the accident was due to the overhanging plate obstructing the passing troop train.

William Taylor, driver of the troop train, said that the movement of a vacuum indicator suggested that a communication chord had been pulled. He pulled up and got out of the train. Until an officer and a soldier came up to him he was not aware that anything had happened. He neither felt nor heard any obstruction striking his engine.

James Chadwick, driver of a passing mineral train, said that while passing through Beighton he heard a crash and something struck his engine. On stopping he found small bits of wood and cushion stuffing on his train.

Mr F.E. Allen, station master at Beighton said that the plate wagon was in an ordinary siding. He had never been advised that it was an outsize load.

At this point the inspector decided that the inquiry should sit in camera to hear evidence of the loading of the plate wagon and its movements in transit  

Beighton Station Sheffield (date not known)

I am not a railway historian but I believe that this must be Sheffield's worst ever railway accident. And yet until just recently I was totally unaware of the incident. My first viewing of the reports in The Times led to me think that there was some sort of official cover up - the discrepancy in the death toll, the very short interval between the accident and the inquiry, and last and by no means least, the arbitrary decision of the inspector to abruptly halt proceedings and remove the press and the public from the room. 

However a bit of reflection leads me to think that the removal of press and the public was more to do with the ever present wartime restrictions that were imposed by the government. Given the military nature of the transport movements and the materials stored in the wagons - I still don't know anything about where the train was travelling from or to - it was both prudent and correct for the inspector to halt proceedings when he did. "Careless talk costs Lives". It was just a fact of wartime.

What I would be interested to know though, are the names of the servicemen killed and how the news of their deaths was communicated to their relatives. Successive British government have a very patchy and uneven record when it comes to disclosing the nature of a serviceman's death. I would like to think that these servicemen (and their families) were honoured and treated in just the same way as those that actually "saw" active service abroad for instance. But somehow you get the uneasy feeling that this may not have been the case. 

If anyone can help please contact me 

The above was the sum total of the information I had on the accident but since posting to the site, there have been some major developments

However after I posted the article, a naval rating who was actually on the train the night the accident occurred contacted me and gave me some much needed background on the train's movements. 

"I was on the troop train involved in the disaster at Beighton. I have often wondered what really happened. I think we were told that a girder had slipped off a goods train going in the opposite direction. I can add a little information about the train. I was a young ordinary telegraphist in the Royal Navy, and the naval contingent were going up to Scotland to join others already "standing by" a brand new "P" class destroyer HMS Partridge built by Fairfield's at Govan on the Clyde. The train started at Chatham, then we stopped at Woolwich and the army contingent boarded the train. We were in our part of the train and the army in theirs, hence the casualties not being mixed. We were obviously in the least affected carriages. Nothing came into the section where I was. I think the army were all going up to the Clyde to join troopships to take them overseas. The accident occurred at about 2300 and very quickly the mining community came to our aid and were absolutely superb. I think they opened the miners welfare and even though there was rationing they somehow produced food and drink and kept us warm. Eventually the army took us to one of their establishments until the train was re-assembled and we continued our journey north. We arrived a day late on Thursday 12th February. I remember the Captain (Lieutenant Commander W A F Hawkins) saying to us "I've already lost two destroyers, I'm not going to take a new one down the Clyde on Friday 13th", so we sailed on the Saturday. He was unlucky with destroyers, because that one was sunk on Dec 18th 1942!"

The is also an  sequel to this posting that concerns one of the ratings aboard the HMS Partridge in 1942

AND

Further information on the crash itself

In May 2005, after I wrote this article, a further article was posted to the BBC People's War website which gives a greater in depth look at the disaster and the subsequent investigation by the Inspecting Officer of the Ministry of Transport   

In March 2014 I received an e-mail from the grand-daughter of the station-master at Beighton, Mr. F E Allen 

"Mr. Fredrick  Allen was my grandfather, and my father Keith Allen was present that night and helped tend the casualties. My grandmother Irene did the same" (After the tragedy) Fredrick Allen was promoted and moved to London he became a Station Master down there. I am not sure which station it was but they lived in a railway house at 49 Hampton Road , Forest Gate, London” 

In March 2014 I also was able to obtain a report from The Manchester Guardian dated 13th April 1942

 

In October 2014 I received this information from a reader of this article whose late father was a witness to the events that night

"During February 1942 my late father was porter/shunter at KIveton Park station On the morning of the 11th he was sent to Beighton station to assist with the  clear up. The troop train had been removed from the scene and he and others assisted by soldiers collected military equipment and kit bags from the line side and took them to Beighton  station and loaded them onto army lorries. Strangely he was told that the train involved was a Marylebone to Manchester additional express and  "Not a troop train and not to talk about it" Perhaps this was to do with wartime  secrecy of troop movements but the press seemed to know about.....you may be interested to know he worked for the LNER And BR for approx 45 years as a fat lad (wagon greaser) shunter porter, goods guard, yard foreman and finally yard inspector at Worksop. He retired in 1974 and died in 1985"

Notes

The most recent station at Beighton, the third one in the village, stood adjacent to the level crossing on Rotherham Road . It opened on November 1, 1893 and closed exactly 61 years later. The line is still used as a secondary route between Chesterfield and Sheffield . Holbrook Colliery opened in 1877 and ceased production in 1944. An industrial estate now stands on much of the site.

Sources

 The Times Friday, Feb 13, 1942; pg. 2; Issue 49159; col B 

The Times Saturday, Feb 14, 1942; pg. 2; Issue 49160; col E

The Times Thursday, Feb 19, 1942; pg. 2; Issue 49164; col B

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This page was last updated on 22/10/14 10:43