Quest to identify two young victims of Quintinshill disaster

Joe McClure (left) and Billy Buchanan at the memorial stone at Western Necropolis. Photograph: John Devlin
Joe McClure (left) and Billy Buchanan at the memorial stone at Western Necropolis. Photograph: John Devlin
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A new quest has been launched to name two “unidentified” child victims of Britain’s worst rail disaster so they can be added to a gravestone.

Joe McClure is seeking proof that the bodies of the so-called “Lost Children of Maryhill”, which were buried at the Western Necropolis in Glasgow, are his relatives.

He is convinced they are his father’s brother and sister, who he said died in the crash at Quintinshill, near Gretna, along with 228 others in 1915.

McClure believes Matilda, three, and John, six or seven, were killed along with their aunt, also Matilda, 29, and grandmother, Margaret Jane, 60.

He said it was thought his father James, then eight months old, and James’ parents, who were travelling with them, had lived because they took their baby son to another carriage to be fed.

McClure said the family had been planning to emigrate to Canada after living in the Maryhill area of Glasgow.

However, it is not known how they became embroiled in the crash and fire, which involved five trains including one carrying Scottish troops to Liverpool en route to Gallipoli.

McClure, 74, from Glasgow, said he would be prepared to have the grave disinterred in an attempt to confirm their identities,

He is upset that a memorial stone for the “Lost Children of Maryhill” was erected at the previously unmarked plot six years ago, because it stated “they were sadly never named or claimed”.

He has traced birth certificates for the family, who were originally from Ireland, but has been unable to find any death certificates.

A book published two years after the memorial was erected backed McClure’s claims.

In The Quintinshill Conspiracy, authors Jack Richards and Adrian Searle wrote: “This seems a highly plausible explanation to the mystery, the most convincing put forward.”

They said the family may have been en route to pay a farewell visit to relatives in Maryhill before crossing the Atlantic.

That would suggest they were aboard a northbound express which ploughed into the troop train.

Newspaper reports from the time referred to one of the coffins arriving in Glasgow as being labelled “unrecognisable” and the other “possibly children”.

McClure said: “The story has been passed down the family, but after 100 years, it’s a jigsaw, and I’m trying to get it sorted out.

“By the time I found out about the stone, it was being erected.

“I’m after it being changed and getting their names put on it. They will be at rest then.

“There is no doubt in my mind it is my family buried there. This was just a big cover up by the government and the railway.”

Billy Buchanan, who paid for the memorial, said he was equally keen to solve the mystery.

The Falkirk councillor represents Larbert, from where the train carrying the Leith Battalion of the Royal Scots left.

He said: “I put the stone up in their memory, not knowing who they were. There was no record of the interment.

“What Joe has said makes a lot of sense. It would be wonderful if we could categorically state what happened here.

“We need an investigation into every aspect, involving the city council and police, to try to end this saga and give Joe peace of mind.”