A lucky escape

Welwyn Garden City’s Fire Brigade, of which Jean Bridge’s father was a member, in the 1930s.

Welwyn Garden City’s Fire Brigade, of which Jean Bridge’s father was a member, in the 1930s.

When my ex-Wren friend came over from Canada to stay with me, she brought over with her a copy of Best of British. It was the first I knew of this magazine, and I found it so interesting that I read it from cover to cover. One of the stories was about a Sunay School outing, and the Editor thought it might jog other people’s memories of similar occasions.

Mine happened to have a very grim ending. The date wasjune 15 1935, when I was 12 years old and my brother Donald was just nine. Members of our Free Church in Welwyn Garden City had arranged a day trip to Hunstanton, Norfolk, for the Sunday School pupils and some of their parents. We were all thrilled and excited at the prospect of a long train journey to a strange place where we would enjoy being beside the sea at the end of it.

Everything went well until Donald went in for a paddle and was stung by a jellyfish. Mother soon found a chemist’s shop and was able to get him treated, so peace was restored and we adjourned to have our picnic lunch on the beach. The afternoon passed all too quickly, and soon we had to catch the train home. As it was well past our usual bedtime when we reached our destination, we were given our supper and hastily bundled off to bed where, tired out after all the excitement, and with our lungs full of good sea air, we were sound asleep in no time, blissfully unaware of the drama unfolding nearby.

Our parents were sitting downstairs discussing the day’s events when they heard a dull thud. Thinking that one of us might have fallen out of bed they quickly checked and found everything normal. Then the fire alarm bell on the landing outside my parents’ bedroom rang. Dad, who was a member of the Volunteer Fire Brigade, quickly went to the garden shed for his bicycle and rode to the Fire Station a short distance away.

Imagine how shocked he was to find out that the emergency wasn’t a fire, but an accident between a parcels train and a Newcasde express. They had collided down at the station where the Sunday School children had disembarked less than two hours before. Fourteen people died, and many more were injured, and the emer-
gency crews worked all through the night.

The next morning we woke up to hear planes overhead as aerial photographs were being taken for the national newspapers, and a continuous line of ambulances made their way through our normally quiet road on their way to the local Cottage Hospital.

This all happened 63 years ago, but it remains as clear in my mind as if it had happened only yesterday,

Jean Bridge