Posted 12 March 2011 - 11:07 AM
As secretary of the LYON Branch of the RBL, I have just been contacted by a French amateur historian who lives in the Alps. he is working on the appalling rail accident which took place on 12 December 1917. This involved a troop train taking French soldiers home for Christmas leave. The train was packed tight with men, and the authorities kept on adding coaches. Finally, the driver refused to go any further,saying it was far too dangerous. He was ordered to continue and he obeyed. On a down slope, the brakes couldn't work with all the weight. The sparks from the brakes set fire to the wodden coaches. Then the whole train came off the rails. Over 400 men were killed. This is the accident Daggers refers to, but he beleived no British troops were involved.
In fact there were British troops there. I understand that a British convoy coming in the opposite direction (I think it could have been 7th Division troops moving to the Italian front) stopped to help with rescue operations. I expect to get a relevant newspaper article soon, but it seems at the time the local people were particularly admirative of the efforts made by "kilted troops" to get the injured and dying out, and give first aid. I don't know who the Highlanders would have been, although 2nd Bn Gordon Highlanders were in 20th Brigade, which was part of 7th Division, at the time.
This doesn't help with the original query, as the dates are wrong, but it is another of these fascinating snippets of information we just don't suspect. As it happens, my correspondent told me about five British servicemen buried in our local CWGC cemetery (between 1916 and 1919 there was a transit camp in a village on the main line here where aboout a hundred men died as a result of wounds or - very often- pneumonia, and especially Spanish flu).The five men he mentions had been killed also in rail accidents in the Alps, in 1917, and had been reburied here in 1951... And I thought I knew all about the men in those graves !