Latest page update - Tuesday 21st February 2017

 

WARTIME RAILWAY TRAGEDY
Young couple married for just 4 hours before dying together on the Bluebell Railway.*

 *For the avoidance of doubt this obviously all happened well before the Bluebell took over the line.

After a wet summer the path to Nobles Farm was thick with mud, the track was not as wide or paved as it is now. The railway is just behind the hedge to the right..

The other side of the hedge showing the railway line where the tragedy happened. The train would have come from behind this photograph heading towards the bridge.

   

  The story that we relate here is absolutely true. We have always considered it an ideal subject for a short film or television program and of course given that the locations are completely unchanged and located beside a still working steam railway means that a complete re-enactment would be quite simple to arrange! If you are a program maker and would like more local detail please contact the webmasters, contact details at the foot of the page.

  The information that follows has been gleaned from a variety of sources including in particular local newspaper cuttings for the supply of which we thank the Worthing library, confirmed with other details in "An illustrated History of the Lewes and East Grinstead Railway" by Klaus Marx.

  In World War II 1943 life was hard and Gunner Ronald Knapp married Corporal Winifred Standing on Saturday 31st. July at St. Giles Church, Horsted Keynes. Gunner Knapp was shortly going on an overseas posting so he had been granted a short leave time for his wedding and honeymoon. The couple remained married for just 4 hours.

  As it was wartime the wedding breakfast was held at the home of the Bride which was Nobles Farm on the parish boundary between Horsted Keynes and Lindfield near what is now the Bluebell Railway. The groom's parents lived in Haywards Heath and had to leave the reception early to catch the last bus for home from the stop outside what is now Holywell waterworks but was then a very deserted area. The newly married couple decided to walk with them to the bus stop, and it was this decision that made the drama begin and their lives end.

  It was of course dark on any wartime evening (no street lighting and a blackout then of course) and with very heavy rain visibility was poor. So having seen their new in-laws safely off onto the bus for Haywards Heath at 20.20 the newlyweds decided to walk back to the reception not by the path beside the potholed waterlogged track but along the less muddy railway line which in this weather was the easiest route from the bus stop back to Noble's Farm.

  Unfortunately this was the same time as the train from Lewes to East Grinstead which would have been travelling "tender first" i.e. with the engine travelling at the front of the train but backwards and at the relatively slow speed of 25 miles an hour. The guard said that as they passed the bridge over the road by Holywell he saw something dark lying in the track, so when the train reached Horsted Keynes station three quarters of a mile or so away, the guard got the driver to look at the front of the train, i.e. the rear of the engine, where he found an old raincoat covered with blood.

  A line ganger was called out from his home, one of the cottages that still stands above the station, and while walking the line South from Horsted Keynes towards Holywell he made a grisly discovery. Lying between the rails were the lifeless bodies of the newly married couple, some distance further away was another mackintosh.

  The ganger told the inquest which was held the following week in Haywards Heath that it appeared the couple had been walking with their backs to the train with a single mackintosh over their heads. There had been a very heavy squall at the time and the couple would probably have not heard a thing.

  At the inquest in Haywards Heath the Coroner Dr. E. F. Hoare said that in his opinion the couple would have been killed or at least rendered unconscious instantly. They were trespassing on the railway track and no blame could be attached to any railway worker. In fact he said that they performed in an exemplary manner. 

Rev Stenton-Erdley of Horsted KeynesIt was the same rector who married the couple the Rev Stenton-Erdley who had the sad duty of burying them together in St. Giles Churchyard a little over a week later. They still lie there together to this day under a War Graves Commission headstone.

We all hope that this sort of tragedy could not happen in modern times but it does serve to warn those who walk on railway lines - both as visitors, workers and for example photographers to always keep their eyes and ears open. The Bluebell Railway have an enviable safety record but no organisation can predict every circumstance.

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