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Royal Scots rail disaster remembered 100 years on

23 May 2015

One hundred years after they died in what remains the worst rail disaster in UK history, more than 220 members of the Royal Scots were remembered today during ceremonies in Edinburgh.

Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, the Royal Naval Commissioner with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), joined HRH The Princess Royal, descendants and dignitaries in laying a wreath at the CWGC Gretna Memorial within Rosebank Cemetery. 

Of the 271 First World War dead buried in Rosebank, the majority died in the Quintinshill (or Gretna) rail disaster on 22 May 1915.

A troop train, carrying some 500 soldiers from the 1/7th Battalion, the Royal Scots, destined for Gallipoli, was travelling south from Larbert in Stirlingshire to Liverpool.

It collided head-on at high speed with a stationary local train which had been left accidentally on the main line near Quintinshill signal box, one and a half miles from Gretna.

Following the impact, the wooden coaches full of soldiers caught fire. A minute later the Euston to Glasgow express ploughed into the wreckage. The catastrophic chain of events led to the death of over 220 men, with nearly 250 injured.

The exact number of dead could not be established as the battalion roll was lost in the fire. It was, and still remains, the worst rail disaster in the UK.

On 24 May, the majority of the dead, many of them men of Leith, were brought to Rosebank Cemetery and buried with full military honours. The Gretna Memorial screen walls, built and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, serve as their headstone.

Mr Colin Kerr, the CWGC's Director of External Relations, attended the commemorations and said: "Having just marked the 100th anniversary of the Allied landings at Gallipoli in Turkey, today we remember those members of the Royal Scots, being sent as reinforcements for that campaign but who died in this tragic disaster. Their loss was felt deeply throughout Scotland then and today. 100 years later, we still remember."

The personal stories of some of those are buried at Rosebank - including that of brothers Robert and Geoff Duff of Musselburgh -  can be accessed by visitors to  the cemetery through their mobile phones.

By scanning the QR Code on the CWGC's information panel within the cemetery, the personal stories are revealed and visitors can leave a message on a virtual Visitors' Book.

The stories can be found at http://www.cwgc.org/microsites/edinburgh-(rosebank)-cemetery.aspx