Stoke & Staffordshire

The Lollipop Express train crash remembered 50 years on

Cheadle Hulme rail crash Image copyright Rex Features
Image caption The train derailed while speeding through a bend at Cheadle Hulme station

On 28 May 1964, a train carrying more than 230 schoolchildren derailed and crashed at Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire, leaving three dead and dozens injured. Now, 50 years on, some of those who remember the crash have shared their memories.

"It seemed to go on forever, almost like being in a dream, like a slow-motion film that you couldn't do anything about," said John Gibson.

He was nine years old at the time, one of a number of children from St Austin's Primary School, Stafford, aboard the special service, dubbed the 'Lollipop Express'.

Pupils from three schools in the town had been bound for York for a day trip to visit the Minster, castle and the railway museum.

"After two or three minutes the carriage started to turn on to its side," Mr Gibson said.

"I went straight out of the window because the glass had smashed, but managed to grab hold of the table.

"I remember the train tipping over and my head banging up and down on the sleepers."

'Arm was mangled'

Mr Gibson had been one of 27 children left in hospital by the crash. His left arm was amputated, while a female pupil lost her leg.

He had been sitting close to Louis Stevens and Christine Heffernan, both of whom died in the crash.

A British Rail representative who had helped to organise the trip was also killed.

An inquiry found the nine-carriage train derailed while travelling at 40mph in a 10mph zone on a bend through Cheadle Hulme station.

It split between the fourth and fifth carriages, with the fourth coming to a stop on its side 130 yards (120m) down the line.

Image caption John Gibson's arm was amputated as a result of the crash

Mr Gibson was knocked unconscious but remembers coming round to find he was trapped in the wreckage.

"I woke up underneath the train and saw my arm was mangled around a girder or a wheel," he said.

Rescue teams tried to free the boy but eventually had to lift the toppled carriage with a crane before he could be freed.

Image copyright Maurice Blisson
Image caption Maurice Blisson reported on the crash for the Stafford Newsletter

Meanwhile, word of what had happened reached Stafford, and worried parents scrambled to find out if their children were among the injured or dead.

Maurice Blisson was a 25-year-old reporter for local newspaper the Stafford Newsletter, and remembers the chaotic scenes at the town's station.

He said there had been "desperate crying" from the "brothers and sisters and families" of the children, who had descended on the railway terminal anxious for news.

"The main thing I remember is the bewilderment and frustration of people who wanted to know how their kids were getting on," he said.

"There were no mobiles or local radio stations in those days so all they could do was rely on the national news."

'Horrendous time'

Mr Gibson, who was taken to a hospital in Stockport, said his parents were initially sent to the wrong place once they found out he had been injured.

And, thanks to "Chinese whispers" at the station, at one point they were led to believe he was dead.

"My parents had a horrendous time of it," he said.

Doctors had been trying to contact the boy's parents to seek their permission to amputate his badly-damaged arm, but eventually had to perform the procedure anyway to save his life.

Image copyright Maurice Blisson
Image caption Mary Tiernan spent three months in a coma after the crash
Image copyright Maurice Blisson
Image caption She was nicknamed "Sleeping Beauty" by reporters

Another child injured in the crash was Mary Tiernan.

She went into a coma after she was critically wounded with head injuries. as well as fractured bones and burns.

Her mother Kathleen and father Tim took it in turns to visit the Manchester Royal Hospital on alternative days, maintaining a bedside vigil.

After three months of unconsciousness, their daughter defied expectations and woke up.

Upon seeing her father, her first words were "that's my daddy".

"I remember waking up and saying my name was Mary and recognising my daddy," she said.

Ms Tiernan, who has no memory of the crash itself, spent a further nine months learning to walk again - eventually returning home a year after the crash.

"The doctors and nurses at both hospitals were wonderful," she said.

She is now a grandmother of two and will turn 60 next year.

"Fifty years ago they didn't have all the equipment they have now, but they kept me alive and I've had a good life," she said.

The family of Louis Stevens returned to his family's native Belgium after the crash, while Christine Heffernan's family remained in Stafford.

Mr Gibson, who also still lives in the town and has two grown-up sons with wife Rachael, said he has not let losing his arm get in the way with life.

"I reached the point a long time ago where I didn't let it affect me," he said.

"I always think I wouldn't have had the life I have if I'd not lost my arm.

"And I'm pretty happy with the life I've got now."

Related Topics