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Remembering the Kendal crash

Plans being made to mark 1957 rail disaster

BY ALICIA SUTHERLAND
Observer staff reporter
sutherlanda@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, September 10, 2018

KENDAL, Manchester — In early September 1957, this quiet community a few miles north of Mandeville gained global notoriety after close to 200 people died when a Jamaica Railway Corporation train derailed.

Now, more than six decades later, the community looks set to benefit as the Manchester Municipal Corporation (MMC) explores options to properly commemorate the tragedy, popularly referred to as the Kendal Crash.

On Sunday September 2, a church service was held at Kendal Missionary, which concluded with a visit to the site where victims of the crash were buried in unmarked graves.

The site now has a temporary monument.

However, Angella Edwards, local economic development officer at the MMC and part of a planning committee, said that by next year a permanent monument should be erected.

She said that the medium-to long-term vision is to establish a memorial/recreational park at the site of the train crash.

Edwards envisions that over time the site could become a tourist attraction with the potential to create employment and improve the economy of Kendal.

“The event (Kendal crash) is a significant part of the history of the parish of Manchester…,” she said, adding that funding is still being sourced to solidify the goals.

On Sunday September 1, 1957, hundreds of members of the St Anne's Catholic Church, in Kingston, boarded a train in Kingston and went to Montego Bay for an all day excursion. On their way back to Kingston, the overcrowded train crashed at Kendal, leaving close to 200 people dead and hundreds injured.

At the time it was deemed the second worst rail disaster in the world.

Edwards told the Jamaica Observer Central that there have been longstanding plans by the Municipal Corporation to commemorate the event.

A declaration by Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sports, Olivia Grange, last year on the 60th anniversary of the crash, that September 1 be observed annually to show respect for the passengers who died, has helped to propel the plans forward.

A commemorative service was also held at the St Anne's Catholic Church in Kingston in 2017.

Grange was unable to be at the recent service held at Kendal Missionary due to a working visit in China.

In Grange's message, read on the occasion by deputy executive director of the Social Development Commission, Dr Omar Frith, she said that it is an event which is recalled with much sadness.

“Were I in Jamaica, I would make it my duty to join you for this very important church service at Kendal Missionary to mark the first anniversary of what I declared in 2017, as the official commemoration of the Kendal Train Crash to be observed on September 1. I said then, that going forward the nation would annually commemorate the Kendal Train Crash to honour the memory of those who perished in that horrible disaster,” read the message.

Grange said that the decision to observe Kendal Train Crash Day was taken after discussions, which included Beverley East, author of the book Reaper of Souls, which gives an account of the event using fictional characters. East is one of many who lost relatives in the crash.

“I hope, that as we grieve those who we have lost, this occasion will open our eyes to the need for us to put even greater value on the lives of those who are still with us and to treat them with all the love and care within our being,” said Grange in her message.

Survivors of the Kendal crash and relatives of survivors as well as those who perished, were at the commemorative service in Manchester.

Among them was 89 year-old Theresa East-Headley, 89, who said she lost her mother, father, sister, uncle and his wife in the train crash.

East-Headley said that attending the service and seeing the temporary monument was important to her because of the possibility she may not be able to return. She described the initiatives as the beginning of the fruition of steps she has long wanted to see taken.

Winston Palmer, chief executive officer of the MMC, said he was heartened by feedback from people — even outside of Jamaica — who expressed a desire to participate in commemorative activities on an annual basis.