Double bravery award for averting train tragedy

10:01, Jun 04 2014
Marzena Simpson
HONOURED: Marzena Simpson received the Royal Humane Society Silver Medal and the Charles Upham Award for Bravery.

A primary school teacher has received two bravery awards for saving the life of a woman trapped in the path of an oncoming train.

Marzena Simpson, 35, received a Royal Humane Society Silver Medal and the Charles Upham Award for Bravery at a ceremony at Government House today.

Tragedy seemed imminent at Mornington rail station in Auckland in February last year when a train barrelled towards a woman who was unable to move out of its path.

Gabriella Knott, who has cerebral palsy, couldn’t move out of the train’s way because her wheelchair was stuck between the tracks and the footpath.

Simpson, along with Matthieu Mereau, 25, saw the tragedy unfolding when they rushed to her aid.

The two frantically tried to free the wheelchair before the train struck, but could not do so in time. With only seconds to spare, they pushed the wheelchair forward, sending all three of them tumbling off the track.


Knott, 22 at the time, was dragged behind the train for a short distance, sustaining critical injuries. Part of her foot later had to be amputated.

Simpson was glanced by the train, and sustained grazing to her legs.

Simpson, who now lives in Lower Hutt, said she was honoured to receive the awards but did not feel like a hero.

‘‘I feel very honoured… it’s a great privilege to receive both awards,’’ she said.

‘‘I don’t necessarily feel like I deserve it. I feel like there’s a lot of commotion about something everyone would do.’’

She said fear was not a factor when she risked her life to aid Knott.

‘‘At the time it was just adrenaline… you know you’ve got so little time to do something. It’s only afterwards when you can think about the gravity of the situation, and how serious it was, that you feel scared.’’

Simpson fully recovered from her injuries, and returned to her ‘‘normal life’’ as a primary school teacher.

She was full of praise for her fellow saviour, London-based Mereau, who received a Royal Humane Society medal at a ceremony in Buckingham Palace last year.

‘‘He was great. He was the one who asked me to give him a hand, and I really admire him for stepping in, because he was the first on the scene.’’

The awards were presented to Simpson by Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias, standing in for Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae.

Elias commended Simpson for her resolve and determination in the face of ‘‘extraordinary personal danger.’’

‘‘[Simpson] and her companion [Mereau] did what very few people could contemplate: they put aside their concern for their own safety,’’ she said.

‘‘They knew there was a good chance they would be injured or killed. They put those thoughts aside as they acted to save Gabriella Knott.’’

Simpson’s husband, Craig, and their 11 week-old daughter Sofia watched on as she received the awards.

When Craig Simpson heard his wife had been hit by a train, he didn’t know what to expect: but now that it’s over, he said he was proud of his wife and the awards she received.

‘‘I was concerned when I heard she’d been hit by a train... you sort of imagine the worst.

‘‘I’m extremely proud. She’s probably braver than I am.’’