Plymouth town searching for soldiers' families 100 years on from tragic accident

A memorial plaque was placed in 1918 at St Andrews Church in Bere Ferrers a year after the accident.
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A memorial plaque was placed in 1918 at St Andrews Church in Bere Ferrers a year after the accident.

When the train stopped, the exhausted, hungry soldiers clambered eagerly out of the carriage - not seeing the engine fast approaching on the parallel track.

Assuming they were stopping for rations, the men bundled out of the door they'd boarded through - only to be struck down by the Plymouth express that came around a blind corner and couldn't slow down in time.

Nine New Zealanders, two of whom were from Taranaki, were killed instantly, and a tenth later died in hospital.

The Bere Ferrers station platform in 1917, where a blood-stained engine came to a stop.
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The Bere Ferrers station platform in 1917, where a blood-stained engine came to a stop.

A hundred years later the accident will be commemorated at Bere Ferrers, near Plymouth in Devon, and the organisers would like to hear from any family members who are interested in taking part.

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Among the dead were Chudleigh Inwood Kirton and Sidney Ennis West, whose next of kin lived in New Plymouth at the time of the tragedy.

The memorial in St Andrew's Church, overhung by the New Zealand flag which was donated by the New Zealand Government.
Barry Geddes

The memorial in St Andrew's Church, overhung by the New Zealand flag which was donated by the New Zealand Government.

Bere Ferrers resident Clive Charlton said it would be great if they could find some family members.

"There will be no direct descendants of the soldiers who died; I believe none had children.

"I would like to make contact with other locations from which the ten soldiers came; it may be possible to trace relatives."

The bend of the railway track which the London express train came along in 1917, just before the New Zealand soldiers ...
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The bend of the railway track which the London express train came along in 1917, just before the New Zealand soldiers were struck.

He said it would be "fascinating" to know more about the families.

An inquest ruled that it was accidental death, and the 10 men are buried at the Plymouth (Efford) Cemetery in Devon.

Charlton has also spoken to Bere Alston primary school, who are keen to connect with a New Plymouth primary school.

The memorial to the ten men at the Bere Ferrers station near Plymouth, Devon.
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The memorial to the ten men at the Bere Ferrers station near Plymouth, Devon.

He said the long standing connection between Bere Ferrers and New Zealand was "very moving" and the tragedy had had a big impact on the village.

"The 'Great War' had been under way for over three years; local people would have been all too aware of its impact. But it was still 'far away'.

"Then suddenly there was violent death involving soldiers - right on the doorstep, at the normally tranquil station at the top of the village. All the more moving was the realisation that the victims had come all the way from New Zealand to join the war effort."

September's commemoration, held by the Bere Alston branch of the Royal British Legion, includes a service at St Andrews Church, with songs that the local singing group, Tavy Tars, are writing for the occasion.The event will be held at 3:52 pm on September 24 - 100 years to the minute since the accident.

The ten men are:

Chudleigh Inwood Kirton, Rifleman #56795 of New Plymouth.

Sidney Ennis West, Private #54624, of Warea.

William Simon Gillanders, Private #55050 of Christchurch.

William Frederick Greaves, Rifleman #57068 of Paraparaumu.

John Stanley Jackson, Private #55753, of south Dunedin.

Joseph Judge, Rifleman #56791, of Whanganui.

Baron Archibald Wilson McBride, Private #55776, of Dunedin.

Richard Vincent McKenna, Rifleman #57122, of Pahiatua (born in Australia).

William John Trussell, Rifleman #56874, of Whanganui.

John Warden, Rifleman #56883, of Whanganui (from Ireland).

 - Stuff

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