Kiwi soldiers remembered 100 years after rail tragedy in England

Visitors look at the wreaths laid in remembrance.
Clive Charlton

Visitors look at the wreaths laid in remembrance.

Two Taranaki men who were among 10 New Zealand soldiers killed in a train disaster on the other side of the world have been remembered exactly 100 years later.

Chudleigh Inwood Kirton and Sidney Ennis West were among those killed in the accident at Bere Ferrers, in Plymouth, England, on September  24, 1917.

Assuming their train was stopping for rations, the soldiers clambered out of the door they'd boarded through, not seeing the Plymouth express on the parallel track. Nine men were killed instantly and the tenth later died in hospital.

Brigadier Simon Young, Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Devon, High Commissioner to Britain Sir Jerry Mataparae, Brigadier Evan ...
Clive Charlton

Brigadier Simon Young, Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Devon, High Commissioner to Britain Sir Jerry Mataparae, Brigadier Evan Williams, chief representative of the new Zealland Defence Force in Britain, and Comander Tony Parker of the Royal navy attended the commemoration.

The village commemorated the tragedy on Sunday at 3:52pm, 100 years to the minute since the accident. High Commissioner to the UK, Sir Jerry Mateparea, and Brigadier Evan Williams, chief representative of the New Zealand Defence Force in Britain, both attended the event.

Mateparea gave a short speech expressing his appreciation to the organisers and the community of Bere Ferrers for their enduring affection and respect for New Zealand.

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Old railway signal weights were painted by school children for a new memorial on the Bere Ferrers station platform.
Clive Charlton

Old railway signal weights were painted by school children for a new memorial on the Bere Ferrers station platform.

Bere Ferrers resident Clive Charlton said family members of some of the soldiers also attended.

"Some of these were related to Willie Gillanders, who was killed, and others to Ashton Mirfin, who was Willie's 'mate' – and who very narrowly escaped death in the accident himself," he said. "It was extraordinary to meet folk linked to those two New Zealanders who had met very different fates.

"It was a very memorable, very well-attended event that hopefully did justice to the memory of the ten New Zealanders who were killed on September 24, 1917."

A new memorial plaque was dedicated to the memory of the ten New Zealanders.
Clive Charlton

A new memorial plaque was dedicated to the memory of the ten New Zealanders.

100 years after Kirton's death, his relation, New Plymouth's Joan Bridgeman,  only knows what her stepfather told her about him.

Bridgeman's younger sister, Pat, married Chudleigh Kirton's younger brother, Harry, and after her father died, her mother married Chudleigh's older brother Robert (Bob).

"There was a funny relationship with aunts and cousins and so on," she said.

Joan Bridgeman's mother and sister both married Chudleigh Kirton's brothers.
CHRISTINA PERSICO/STUFF

Joan Bridgeman's mother and sister both married Chudleigh Kirton's brothers.

"I was closely involved with them all my life."

Both men were traumatised by World War I and the Battle of the Somme.

"Harry and Bob went through the worst of World War One.

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

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

"They had a dreadful time. They were glad he missed being involved in the war."

But Bob and Harry both grieved for him for some time.

"They felt it deeply. It seemed such a waste of such a promising young life."

Chudleigh's parents, Robert and Frances, had farmed in Kohuratahi, in western Taranaki, before retiring to Fitzroy to a place they named Glen Avon after their jersey cows' pedigree name.

As a child, she remembered going to their home.

"They had a wonderful collection of records which we used to love to go and hear.

"I remember the mother was a very sweet faced, lovely lady, and the father was rather forboding." 

She said her stepfather said Kirton was "a lovely young man".

"Everybody loved him."

Northland's Shelley Kirton is Chudleigh's great niece and said she felt a connection to him even though she never met him. 

"I do know that the senselessness of the accident was still a great hurt to my grandparents," she said. "The events that combined to create the tragedy should not have happened and it was such a hideous death; too terrible to really contemplate."

The ten men were remembered at the Bere Alston branch of the Royal British Legion, including a service at St Andrews Church, with songs that the local singing group, Tavy Tars, wrote for the occasion. 

 - Stuff

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