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Gov't should do more to assist Kendal crash site development plans says advocate

BY ALICIA SUTHERLAND
Observer staff reporter
sutherlanda@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, September 09, 2019

KENDAL, Manchester— Author Beverley East lost 14 family members in the historic 1957 disaster, the Kendal train crash.

However, it was a topic that she said did not make it to family discussions and as a young girl, who was living in England with her parents, she only learnt about it in her late teens.

East told the audience at the 62nd anniversary memorial church service of the crash at the Kendal Missionary Church earlier this month, that when she eventually found out it led to years of research to document the information.

“[I lost members from my father's side] my grandparents, uncles, and aunts that I had never met. When I was 18, I found out that my father lost his family. I took 20 years researching and finding out about what happened, not just to my family, but to members of other families,” she said.

East said that it took her 11 years to get her cousin Earl Clarke, one of the survivors of the crash and who was a teenager at the time, to speak about his experience.

Clarke, during last year's memorial service, related what took place and was still emotional.

“I remember that track very well. As I walked up, I could see people…begging for help which I couldn't offer. As I continued to walk, one man grabbed my trousers and pulled at it. I couldn't help; I was just a young boy. The (radio) news said that 'it was pointless…to return to the site because of what we would see. There were body parts; you would not recognise anyone. Everybody was thrown together and buried together,” he said then.

East's research resulted in her book Reaper of Souls, a story of the loss, depicted with fictional characters to show what happened in the Kendal crash.

September 1 was officially declared as Kendal Crash Day by the Government on the 60th anniversary of the incident and the Manchester Municipal Corporation is now on a quest to establish a permanent monument and a memorial park at the crash site, which will have the potential to attract tourists.

The plan is that it should also lead to the development of the economy of the Kendal community.

A temporary monument was unveiled last year at the site, and at the memorial service earlier this month a temporary scroll with the names of people who died was unveild.

East is lamenting, however, that the Government could do more to highlight an event that is significant to the country's history.

“My disappointment, may I say, is that the Government has not done enough over these years,” she said at the service.

In conversation with The Jamaica Observer Central following the service, she said the memorial park and the monument should have already been in place.

The Municipal Corporation is seeking approval to use the land which is under lease by WINDALCO and that should not still be the case, she said.

“I am not saying the land should (just) be (given)…to the (planning) committee but they need to release it. It is not like there is something on it, nobody is living on it. The Government should help to speed that through, it shouldn't be jumping through hoops 60-something years later,” said East.

She said that the Kendal crash should not be forgotten as it was an accident where innocent people died, were not buried properly, and there is not even a proper sign at the location.

Different generations should be aware of the history, she said.

The Kendal crash was reportedly the second most serious train crash in the world at the time.

Reports are that a train that transported church people from Kingston to an excursion in Montego Bay derailed in Kendal, Manchester, on the return trip, leaving close to 200 people dead and many others injured.

East said she finds it difficult to get local book stores to understand the importance of the book she has written from her research on the crash and has had no success, to date, in getting the Ministry of Education on board to get it in schools.

“I feel we take on so much of the American culture… and what we have we are not holding on to,” she said.

East said she fears that the ideas may die over time if there is not much more support.

However, Councillor Faith Sampson (PNP), from the John's Hall Division in North Western Manchester, who represented the Corporation at the memorial service, gave the sparse audience the assurance that despite what appears to be slow progress, it will be better.

“Don't be disappointed by the empty chairs because we have plans, and we are going to involve others. Next year when you come, if you don't come early, you won't have a seat,” she said.