Play marks centenary of Quintinshill rail disaster

A view of the aftermath of the Gretna Green rail disaster on 22 May, 1915. Picture: TSPL
A view of the aftermath of the Gretna Green rail disaster on 22 May, 1915. Picture: TSPL
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A NEW play inspired by Britain’s worst rail disaster is to be staged in the same drill hall in Edinburgh where most of its victims were based.

The 100th anniversary of the tragedy at Quintinshill, near Gretna, claimed more than 200 men from the seventh battalion of the Royal Scots.

A view of the Gretna Green rail disaster on 22 May, 1915. Picture: TSPL

A view of the Gretna Green rail disaster on 22 May, 1915. Picture: TSPL

Now their former headquarters - where many bodies of the victims were laid out in the wake of the disaster - will play host to a promenade play, Persevere, in honour of its centenary next month.

An exhibition in the venue will explore the story of the disaster through the stories of seven of the soldiers who made the fateful train trip south from Larbert, in Stirlingshire, to Liverpool.

The script is based on the farewells the Edinburgh-based soldiers would have made before heading off to Gallipoli, the news of the crash and how their loved ones dealt with the aftermath of the train crash, which happened when a train carrying 500 soldiers collided with a goods train and burst into flames. Then, with people still trapped inside, a Glasgow-bound express train ploughed into the wreckage.

Some 215 soldiers out of the 498 on board the train from the battalion lost their lives in the tragedy, along with 12 civilians, on 22 May 1915.

Their bodies were laid out in the battalion’s drill hall on Edinburgh’s Dalmeny Street, which became a makeshift mortuary, before they were buried in Rosebank Cemetery, on the other side of Leith Walk.

The drill hall, which was built for the Royal Scots in 1901, was transformed into a multi-purpose arts centre more than a decade by the group Out of the Blue, which is staging the play and exhibition thanks to £44,500 in funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Two local theatre groups, Active Inquiry and Strange Town Young Company, will be performing the play.

Centre manager Rob Hoon said: “The drill hall is historically associated with a hugely significant tragedy for the Leith community. Thanks to the funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund we’ve been able to explore the impact on individuals and families by people undertaking their own research, uncovering stories and presenting them to the people of Leith - and beyond.”