Grandson digs for truth over devastating North East rail crash

John Caffery who has been researching the 1915 Bede Train Disaster
John Caffery who has been researching the 1915 Bede Train Disaster
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A man is trying to bring overdue recognition to the victims of one of the region’s worst-ever train disasters – almost a century after the tragedy.

On a foggy day in December, 1915, a goods train, a tank engine and a passenger train came into collision on the rail route at St Bede’s Junction – on what is now the section between Jarrow to Bede Metro stations.

John Caffery who has been researching the 1915 Bede Train Disaster

John Caffery who has been researching the 1915 Bede Train Disaster

Nineteen people died that day, many perishing as the result of a fire partially caused by the provision of gas lighting in the passenger train’s carriage.

The tragedy has a special place in John Caffery’s life as his grandfather, Thomas Caffery, sustained severe leg injuries in the crash.

For the last few years, Mr Caffery, 62, who was born in South Shields but who now lives in Crighton, Oxclose, Washington, has been researching the history of the events that day.

In particular he is hoping to give recognition to 12 victims who he believes have been “airbrushed out of history”.

He said: “One of the main reasons I am doing this research is to bring into the public arena those 12 people who were so badly burned that they could not be identified.

“They were put in the grave of three soldiers who were identified.

“They are all resting now in Harton Cemetery in South Shields and I wanted to highlight the human side of the story. It’s as if these people have been airbrushed out of history and I wanted them to have some recognition after all these years. They are in a Commonwealth grave with the name of three civilians and at the bottom, almost as an afterthought, it says ‘plus 12 civilians’. I feel they deserve better than that.”

Now Mr Caffery has contacted Nexus and South Tyneside Council in a bid for a plaque to be erected, possibly at Bede Metro station, in recognition of the 12. “I think that would be entirely appropriate to mark the centenary in December,” he added. Mr Caffery’s grandfather, a Northumberland fuselier from Stranton, West Hartlepool, did not live much longer after the disaster. He contracted tuberculosis in the Army and died in 1924 at the age of just 38.

The signalman’s failure to notice that the goods train had been banked up was the primary cause of the disaster.