Letters to the Editor

The memory of the Kendal crash

Monday, September 04, 2017

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Dear Editor,

It was early Monday morning on September 2, 1957 that a woman passing on the road by our house called out to my parents informing them of the terrible tragedy at Kendal the night before. We had no radio then, and Jamaica had only one radio station, which could hardly be heard after dark in the hills of Manchester, and one daily newspaper which would not report the news until the next day.

As the morning grew older, scores of people of all ages started walking to Kendal, about eight miles away, to see the disaster. I was forbidden to go because, as a 13-year-old, it was felt that I was not ready to deal with what was likely to be seen. My mother had experienced a previous railway tragedy that happened at Balaclava a few years before, so she knew what to expect. In that accident, now fading from memory, on July 30, 1938 more than 30 people lost their lives and she said it was not a pretty sight.

The Jamaica Government Railway, as it was then, had just started replacing the old steam locomotives with diesels, but still used wooden passenger coaches, which literally crumbled when overturned, and the coach which had the most casualties, the heavy rolling stock (chassis), assisted in crushing the old coaches along with the passengers.

There is some controversy about the behaviour of some unruly passengers who obviously were heavily inebriated and one of them obviously tampered with the braking system causing the train to get out of control. A 'Mr Lurch', an experienced conductor on the train who was familiar with that stretch of line, knew what was about to happen when there were three blasts from the whistle and all he could say was, “Wi dead now!”

After hearing the gruesome description of the scene from those who visited the scene, I was glad I didn't go after all. And the stories went on for months after. Naturally, as children, darkness would not catch us outside alone because of the many stories of headless “duppies” we heard then. As usual, the looters did not even wait until the dying were dead, but were at their trade picking the pockets, jewellery and purses of the suffering.

There is little evidence at the accident scene today as it cannot be seen from the road and it is all covered with bush since the demise of the railway. I am happy that Minister Olivia Grange has given some thought to commemorate that fateful day each year, but maybe mention can also be made of the Balaclava accident as well. Few people outside the Clarendon College family may know that the college almost never came into being because, just days after Rev Lester Davey founded that institution, he was killed in a train accident on the Frankfield line.

In spite of everything, we do hope that Transport Minister Mike Henry will be successful in re-establishing one of the oldest and most scenic railways in the world.

Trevor Samuels





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