Fifty years since tragic rail crash

The front page of the Hastings and St Leonards Observer from November 11, 1967 SUS-171031-171618001
The front page of the Hastings and St Leonards Observer from November 11, 1967 SUS-171031-171618001

This weekend will mark 50 years since the Hither Green rail disaster in which dozens of people lost their lives.

On November 5, 1967, a busy 19:43 express train from Hastings to London Charing Cross crashed off the rails between Hither Green and Grove Park stations, near the Southern Region Continental goods depot, at 21:16.

The front page of the Hastings and St Leonards Observer from November 11, 1967 SUS-171031-171631001

The front page of the Hastings and St Leonards Observer from November 11, 1967 SUS-171031-171631001

The front page report of the Hastings and St Leonards Observer dated Saturday, November 11, 1967, said: “Stunned shock swept Hastings and district at the news of the Hither Green train disaster on Sunday in which six people from the town – four of them women – were killed and at least six more taken to hospital with injuries. Many more people closely connected with the town were also named in the casualty list of 51 dead and over 100 injured. The 7.43 to Charing Cross is one of the week’s most popular trains and roughly half of the 600 people on board got on at Hastings or nearby stations to return to work in London after a weekend at home.”

A report into the disaster, compiled by the Ministry of Transport and published on August 8, 1968, says the crash was caused by a broken rail at a fishplate in jointed track.

The Observer report says the third carriage of the 12-carriage train ‘twisted from the track, dragging the nine following coaches with it’. It added: “Coaches zig-zagged across hundreds of yards of track, four overturning and another ploughing into the ground.”

The six Hastings passengers to lose their lives were named as Janet Bartlett, aged 18; Veronica Chevallier, aged 34; Flight-Lieut. William Thomson, aged 28; Betty Lewis, aged 26; Jacqueline Hazard, aged 20; and Richard Spencer, aged 21.

A memorial service was held for the victims and the town’s mayor – Alderman Mrs V. M. Jones – sent a telegram to the Minister of Transport which said: “On behalf of the people of Hastings, I wish to express heartfelt thanks to all services and lay people who helped in the rescue work.”

The mayor also visited Hastings patients in Lewisham Hospital after the tragedy. She said: “It was a most moving experience, all the patients were showing a wonderful courage.”

The disaster happened just over a mile from the scene of the Lewisham train crash in 1957 in which 90 people were killed.