Plaque unveiled to remember victims of Stratford Tube crash
PUBLISHED: 11:49 13 April 2016 | UPDATED: 11:57 13 April 2016
The lives of a dozen people killed in a tragic Tube crash 63 years ago have been commemorated with a new plaque in the borough’s biggest station.
The lives of a dozen people killed in a Tube crash 63 years ago have been commemorated with a new plaque in the borough’s biggest station.
West Ham MP Lyn Brown, London Underground operations director Peter McNaught and many others joined relatives of those who perished in the Central Line collision at Stratford station on April 8, 1953 for an unveiling ceremony on Friday last week.
Close to 1,000 evening commuters were caught up in the carnage when one train travelling around 20mph struck the rear of another in a tunnel between Stratford and Leyton, causing 41 light injuries, five serious injuries and 12 deaths.
A report into the incident found the driver of the moving train, a Mr JS Besley, failed to obey “stop and proceed” rules and as a consequence his train “telescoped” into the back of the stationary train. He had to have one of his legs amputated.
The memorial plaque came about after historian John Turner wrote to Lyn about the crash and the two joined forces in lobbying to have it remembered.
“I didn’t know about the crash until John told me,” Lyn said at the ceremony. “Which is surprising, because my mum and grandmum lived in the area and passed on a kind of oral history.
“But it’s important that we recognise the people that died in this crash and I’m so grateful to be here today.”
For John, who lives in Leytonstone, the crash is especially important to remember because it involved acts of heroism from members of the public and nurses who worked through the night in an attempt to rescue passengers stuck in the tunnel.
“It proves that in disasters people do stick together and help each other,” he said, adding that he had no personal connection to the crash despite his namesake, John Turner of Woodford Green, dying in the tragedy.
“A lot of people would like to think they’d do the same thing – well, this is a great example of that spirit.”
The plaque’s central purpose is to ensure the people who died on that day are not lost to history but remain an active part of the borough’s collective memory.
Mr McNaught said: “The 1953 Central Line crash at Stratford was a terrible tragedy and the customers who lost their lives and were injured will never be forgotten.”
He added that the commemoration was a “mark of respect” for the victims, their families and the emergency services who did their duty on the disastrous day.
The theme of keeping alive the memory of those who didn’t leave the trains was also emphasised by historian Stephen Bewsey from Newham History Society.
“It’s very good that this tragedy is being remembered,” he said.
“It’s good that people can look at this when they are commuting – I hope they will reflect on it.
“Our job is to chart the history of this borough, because if we don’t then it could all be lost.”
Stephen also paid tribute to both Mr Turner and Ms Brown, who “deserve credit” for pushing to have the crash remembered.
The plaque will not be the last of its kind across the capital as London Underground plans future commemorations.
“We have a small series planned,” said Mike Ashworth, design and heritage manager at the Underground.
“We hope to mark a lot of sites associated with the Second World War.
“It’s part of our heritage – it’s an important part of commuters’ lives.”
The terrible crash is well noted for the valour and tirelessness of the nurses, doctors and even passers-by who laboured through the night to rescue travellers stuck in the tunnel’s wreckage.
The report into the crash stated that the last people were carried from the tunnel at 2.15am.
Its author said the conduct of helpers was “much to be admired”.