Witnesses to a train crash near St John's station which left 90 people dead and 176 injured have shared their memories of the disaster 50 years on.

Graham Manning, of Elwill Way, Beckenham, told News Shopper he was travelling to Catford Bridge from Charing Cross with his fiancee Jill Saunders on the day of the crash.

The 70-year-old said: "After several stops, we came to a halt and waited far longer than at any other time and then we were suddenly shunted forward.

"We sat in silence for some time and then gradually we became aware of what sounded like faint screaming and wailing through the fog.

"The driver of our train started walking down the track saying there had been an accident and asking if anyone with first aid experience could assist.

"Jill's colleague Joy Byford, who was with us on the train, and I had undertaken first aid courses, so we got out and started walking back up the line."

He added: "The scene was pure carnage. Bodies were lying all over the embankment.

"The carriages were the old wooden type and the force of the impact had ripped them open down the middle, resulting in many passengers falling through.

"But on stopping, the floors started to move back to their original position, crushing those people.

"It was horrendous and it became very clear first aid was of little help."

Mr Manning and his fiancee decided they would be more of a hindrance than a help and started to walk home.

He said: "On turning into my road, I met a police constable who asked if I knew a Derek Rose. He was in tears and his hands were shaking.

"I showed him where the man lived as his wife had been a good friend of my sister.

"The constable told me it was about the 10th family he had visited to tell them of a loved one who had died in the crash.

"It was some days before I could go on a train again, and even now if the train comes to a standstill under that bridge I get goose pimples.

"I often wonder whether we should have stayed and tried to do something.

"The rescue services did a truly superb job."


THE Lewisham rail crash happened on December 4, 1957, just outside St John's railway station.

It happened when the 4.56pm Cannon Street to Ramsgate express collided with the stationary 5.18pm Charing Cross to Hayes train.

Thick fog that day meant both trains were delayed and the driver of the Ramsgate train missed two red signals.

The impact brought down the Lewisham to Nunhead railway bridge, which collapsed onto the first three carriages of the Ramsgate train.

A third train travelling from Holborn Viaduct to Dartford across the bridge had to slam on its brakes, leaving its lead carriage tilting over the bridge's edge.

Officers from the police, fire brigade and ambulance service, along with Salvation Army members and other agencies, took part in the rescue operation.

An anniversary service took place in St John's Church, St John's Vale, Deptford, on December 2, conducted by the Rev Christine Bainbridge and attended by relatives, friends and people paying their respects.

Premonition it was going to happen

Josephine Taylor, 75, from Hastings, was badly injured in the crash.

She was working for the Labour Party at the time, and was travelling home from Charing Cross on the Hayes train to Elmers End.

She said: "I had a premonition it was going to happen. I told my mum the night before I was going to be in a train crash.

"There were so many people at Charing Cross that evening. It was very foggy.

"When the train stopped in the fog outside St John's, I turned to the girl sitting next to me, a complete stranger, and said I've got a feeling this train is going to crash.

"There was a deathly quiet."

Seconds later, the Ramsgate train ploughed into the back of their train.

Mrs Taylor said: "I felt as if I was being punched in the back and seemed to go flying for ages through the air.

"The next thing I knew, I was under the train."

She said: "The second carriage had jack-knifed and landed on top of my carriage. I must have lost consciousness.

"When I came to, I was suddenly aware of these dreadful screams. I was lying in a pit with 15 bodies.

"I felt a lot of pain, something was cutting my leg below my knee.

"I had dislocated my hip, shattered my pelvis and broken my leg. My injuries were so bad, they didn't think I would last the night."

Mrs Taylor was rescued from the wreckage and taken to Lewisham Hospital, where she underwent eight operations and extensive skin grafts.

She said: "I had to learn to walk again. I remember the terrible pain when I put my feet on the floor.


Brian Desmond, of Clock House Road, Beckenham, was a railway worker called in to help on the day of the crash.

He said: "All the extra gangs who worked on the site were called in early in the morning.

"It was chaos because so many people were being brought back from the train, some were walking away and others were being carried away on stretchers.

"There was great confusion."

The 71-year-old added: "A lot of photographers were around and some of them were taking blankets off people until a policeman chased them away.

"Salvation Army personnel were also climbing up the steep embankment with hot drinks and sandwiches for the workers.

"Our group were moving any debris out of the way and then starting to get the track back in order after the bridge collapsed.

"But the people working the hardest were the railway crews who were cutting people out of the train, unaware if many people had survived or not."

Last rites

Joan Dean, 68, from Spalding, Lincolnshire, was on the Hayes train with her friend, Pat Baker.

She said: "All of a sudden there was this huge bang.

"All the lights went out and I just remember being thrown about before I lost consciousness.

"I woke up under a lot of seats with two or three people underneath me."

She added: "People were screaming and crying, some were praying, some were swearing.

"I was calling out for my friend but kept going in and out of consciousness.

"At the hospital, they gave me the last rites. I had broken my spine in two places, my back, my pelvis and I had a collapsed lung."

She added: "Pat had no external injuries but had fractured her pelvis, which caused an internal haemorrhage, and she died.

"It was terrible but I consider myself very lucky I had no long-term problems afterwards."


Eve Williams, 68, of Ridley Road, Bromley, was 18 when the crash happened and worked as a typist for financial services company Prudential in Holborn.

She is married to Reg and has three children.

Mrs Williams told News Shopper: "I lived in Deptford at the time and my mum had gone to visit somebody in Bromley.

"She hadn't come home, so my younger sister Margaret and I went to look for her.

"The fog was so thick. Then we came across the accident.

"It was horrific. They were bringing bodies down the embankment on stretchers."

She added: "There were hundreds of people lying on the pavement. I can still see them now.

"They were asking for help and I remember running home to get blankets.

"At the time I felt very calm. It was something which didn't seem real.

"It wasn't until the following day it hit me. I shook the whole morning and cried."