McKenzie disappointed Kendal monument yet to be erected
KENDAL, Manchester — Minister of Local Government and Community Development Desmond McKenzie has added his voice to those calling for a monument to be erected in remembrance of the close to 200 people who died here in a train crash, on September 1, 1957.
McKenzie, who is also the Member of Parliament for Kingston Western, recalled his childhood memories of victims of the crash who were a part of an excursion planned by St Anne’s Catholic Church located in his constituency.
“They were quite a number of persons, adults who I knew as a boy and some who I grew up with who were on that train ride. Some didn’t make it and those who did have the scars carrying up until this day as a reminder of Kendal crash,” said McKenzie last Friday during the hand over of a two-bedroom house under the Government’s Indigent Housing Programme in Kendal.
McKenzie took close to three minutes of his speech to express concern and call for the monument.”My disappointment about it is that at the time when it took place, Kendal crash was the largest rail accident in the world and it took decades before that record was surpassed,” he said while adding that the monument is well needed.
“I believe the time is more than ripe that something be done to recognise it. Although it was a tragic event, it placed Jamaica on the map and I think we have not done enough as a country to preserve it,” added McKenzie.
He said the monument should be treated as a priority for its historical value.”I don’t know if there is a sign anywhere to say that ‘at this location’. I don’t know if there is anything that says how many people died. These are important parts of our history, because it speaks to how we were operating as a country,” McKenzie said.”We got rail service long before many parts of the world. We got electricity before many great cities and countries in the world, so the importance of Kendal not just as a farming and residential community, but it is also an area that holds significant history about something that took place many years ago which we need to recognise,” added McKenzie.
In September chairman of the Manchester Parish Development Committee Anthony Freckleton told the Jamaica Observer that the repeated pledge to have the monument erected was “embarrassing”.
Freckleton, who was one of about 25 people who turned up at the Kendal Missionary Church on September 1, was disappointed in the low turnout for a tree planting commemorative ceremony for the 66th anniversary of the crash.
“This project is long overdue to be implemented in our parish, it was documented in the New York Times and was one of the worst disasters in the world at the time,” said Freckleton.
“We don’t seem to acknowledge the importance of this event both to the victims and to the families of the victims that we put up something suitable, a monument, so that a lot of these families can get closure to this situation,” added Freckleton.
He pointed out that the calls from the political directorate are made annually for the monument.
“Every year, every mayor, every councillor, every member of the municipal corporation have been advocating for this and the wider society. A proper museum for this world event that took place down here. This is long overdue and it is very embarrassing that we come every year in the effort that we are making to keep it alive and have not borne the fruit that we ought to see happen,” said Freckleton.
At that time Culture Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange, during an interview on Nationwide 90 FM, reiterated her promise for the monument to be erected.
“We were working towards having it erected and unveiled last year. We were not able to achieve that. We are going to be following through on it as we plan to with a number of other projects to commemorate Jamaica 60,” she explained.
“We are working closely with the Manchester Municipal Corporation, the Jamaica Railway Corporation is on board and Windalco is on board. There is a non-profit entity that is working closely with us to ensure that the monument is done,” added Grange.
The minister had declared September 1 Kendal Crash Day in 2017. That date has been commemorated since with the exception of 2020 when the novel coronavirus pandemic intervened.
The 66th commemorative ceremony was restricted to the church building as the crash site is overgrown with bushes. This led to six plants being symbolically shown for planting in memory of the victims.
Chair of the memorial committee Angela Edwards had told the Observer that the Russian aluminium conglomerate UC Rusal (owners of Windalco) and the local municipality are still in dialogue to settle a land lease for the crash site.
“For the monument we have finally gotten a draft lease agreement from Windalco who owns the land now where the burial site is located, so the council’s lawyers are now looking over the document and in discussion with Windalco to straighten out some stuff in the draft agreement,” she had explained.
“As soon as that is done and the draft agreement is signed then we will be moving forward to look at construction of the monument at the burial site,” added Edwards.
In September she was hopeful that once the lease agreement is settled funding will be allocated to do the project.
“We started communicating with the ministry. We are hoping that the funds will come from the ministry, because it was actually submitted as a project for Jamaica 60, because the ministry had invited the council to submit projects for Jamaica 60 and that was one of the projects that was submitted,” Edwards said in that interview.
“We want to have it done, so we can have the unveiling at next year’s anniversary in 2024… I am really hoping that the ministry will put it in its budget for next year, so we can actually get it done, because it has been a while, it is 66 years and to have your relatives out there in the open and you can’t identify them is really not a nice thing,” added Edwards.
The proposed monument is expected to bear 177 names.
“The overall plan is to do a memorial park at the site, so along with the monument we will have spaces where people can come and sit down and just relax,” Edwards had explained.
According to the accounts of survivors and people in the parish who had heard about or witnessed the event, on Sunday, September 1, 1957, hundreds of members of St Anne’s Catholic Church had boarded a train in Kingston for an all-day excursion to Montego Bay.
On their way back to Kingston, the overcrowded train derailed at Kendal, just north of Mandeville, leaving close to 200 people dead and hundreds injured.