On January 1st 1946, just a few months after the end of World War Two, Lichfield suffered its worst rail crash disaster when 20 people were killed, and 21 injured, following a crash involving two trains at Lichfield Trent Valley Station.
At 18.55 on Tuesday 1st January 1946 a fish train, on route from Fleetwood to London, was following a four-carriage passenger train, operated by the London, Midland and Scottish railway (LMS), on way from Stafford to Nuneaton, in to Lichfield Trent Valley Station. The slower passenger train pulled in to the station on the local line to disembark passengers, and the faster fish train was moved across to the fast line to drive past the passenger train. Tragically, the points system failed to work correctly and the fish train, now travelling at 35mph, plunged headlong in to the stationary passenger train. The four passenger carriages were all made primarily from wood, and were literally smashed to pieces, two carriages were ‘telescoped’ and two were derailed, being thrown across the station area. None of the carriages of the fish train were damaged or derailed and both train engines remained intact.
The crash resulted in the mains gas supply to the station lights being damaged and so the station was thrown in to complete darkness, making the rescue and recovery operation very difficult. It was a freezing cold evening, and the temperature had already dropped below zero degrees. Rescuers arrived almost immediately and started to lift the wounded out of the wrecked carriages. In pitch darkness, and initially with only candles and torches to help them, the rescuers were only guided by the moaning and shouts for help from the victims. One rescuer recalled hearing a young child’s voice plaintively calling out ‘Where’s my Mummy’ over-and-over again.
Many of the victims were taken to the Lichfield Victoria Hospital, by The Friary, and some were also taken to the Burntwood Emergency Hospital. RAF service men from the aerodrome at Fradley, and local soldiers from Whittington Barracks also arrived on the scene to help provide rescue and support.
15 people died on the evening of the incident and 5 died later from the injuries they sustained. Many of the passengers were armed forces personnel, and amongst the victims were those from the W.A.A.F. and the R.A.F. One lucky survivor was Mr. F. A. Baker, of 24 Aston Terrace, Stafford, who was the guard on the Nuneaton to Stafford. He had taken some parcels and mail out of the guard’s van as the train had pulled in to the station and then went across the bridge, to the other side of the station, to get a cup of tea from the Y.M.C.A. canteen. After leaving the canteen, he had just started to recross the bridge when all the station lights went out and he heard the noise of the collision. Had he not taken the parcels across the bridge he would have been in the first carriage that would have been struck by the express train. The numbers of the dead and injured would undoubtedly been higher had the fish train not been forced to wait outside the station for the lights to change to green. This allowed many of the Lichfield-bound passengers to alight from the train, unquestionably saving their lives.
At the inquest, held in Lichfield in February 1946 the Coroner, Mr W.W. Morgan, recorded a verdict of ‘Accidental Death’ on all of the victims and indicating that the accident had been caused by a mechanical failure.
In May 1946 Lieutenant-Colonel Ernest Woodhouse, the Inspecting Officer of Railways at the Ministry of Transport, issued his report on the collision. He attributed the failure of the points system to a build-up of ballast around the points which had then frozen solid. He further identified the cause of the points failure to a down rod, underneath the signal-box, which had buckled, thus allowing the lever in the signal-box to move backwards and forwards, indicating to the signal-man that the points had been changed successfully. The points themselves, however, remained in the original position, thus sending the fish train headlong towards the parked passenger train on the local line, rather than directing it on the fast line. Woodhouse suggested that similar situations might exist at other locations and this initiated a nation-wide check on all railway points to try and ensure that a similar accident did not occur again.
On January 18 1946 the Lichfield Superintendant of Police, G. Hewitt, received special praise from all of the local, and national press, due to the professional and competent manner he had helped them while they were billeted in Lichfield to report on the accident, allowing them access to the police station and providing them with all the injury updates from the local hospitals.
One of the most seriously injured casualties was Mrs Ellen Chitty, aged 28, of Streatham, London, who received severe facial lacerations and fractures to both legs, and was crippled for life. In June 1947 she received £5,200 in compensation for her injuries in a court case made against the L.M.S. Railway. Her husband George, a soldier serving at Whittington Barracks whom Ellen had just visited at the time of the accident, was also awarded £1,750 in damages. Their two-year-old son, David, died in the accident.
On January 4th the Lichfield Mercury listed the names of the dead and the injured. The names of those killed were given as:
James William Parry, aged 23, a corporal in the 5th Royal Inniskillen Fusiliers, of Packington, Ashby-de-la-Zouch. Pte. Kenneth Jordon, aged 20, Leicester Regiment, of 40, Repington Row, Leicester. L/Cpl. C. Stanley Victor Aspin, aged 25, of 5, Mount Pleasant West, Preston, Lanes. Seaman George James Johnson, aged 22, of 16, Canterbury Avenue, Blackpool. Mark Allison, of 64, Frostone Road, Workington. William George Adams, aged 38, pottery worker, of 9, Sutton Road, Mile Oak, Tamworth. Theresa Ryan, aged 19, A.T.S., of 32, Sleddon Street, Preston. Mabel Victoria Adam, of ‘ Chanour’, Regent Drive, Fullwood, Preston. Miss Marie Jean Turner, aged 22, of Wharf Street, Leicester. David Chitty, aged two, of 5, Mount Ephraim Road, Streatham, Gillian Owen, aged nine, of 68, Sunningdale Avenue, Coventry. Harold Lea, 37, of 98, Churchill Avenue, Foleshill, near Coventry. Frances Lea, aged 41, his wife, and Ruth Hazel Lea, aged 3, their daughter. Henry Lovell, aged 19, single, of Main Street, Higham-on-the- Hill, Nuneaton. Ethel Shenton, aged 45, married, of 30, Harvey Road, Meir Road, Stoke-on-Trent. Lan Douglas Adam, aged 13, of Regent Drive, Fullwood, Preston. Mr. J. A. Littlewood of 10, Hathaway Avenue, Braunstone, Leicester.
The Lichfield Rail Crash of January 1946, coming so soon after the cessation of World War Two, was a further blow, and the tragedy that several of the victims were such young children, made it even more poignant and upsetting.
This blog is dedicated to all of the twenty people who lost their lives on New Year’s Day, 1946 – may they all Rest in Peace.
One final thought…there was a memorial plaque at the station dedicated to the victims of the crash, which consequently disappeared during the rebuild of the station during the 1960s-80s. Perhaps it would be a good idea to have the plaque resurrected?
31 December 2020
Sources: The British Newspaper Archive; The Festiniog Railway Heritage Group website
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