In August 1957, a delegation of Young Christian Workers from Warrington set off on a pilgrimage to Rome. The delegation included the Rev. Father P F Videl, curate at St Benedict’s Church, Anne Postlethwaite (older sister of the late actor Pete Postlethwaite) and Sheila Crawshaw, mother of Warrington History Society member Lynn Smith. On the way back from Rome, the group were involved in a serious train crash from which they were lucky to escape with their lives. After coming across some photographs in her mothers’ belongings and a Warrington Guardian newspaper article (transcribed below), Lynn wanted to share the story of their lucky escape with the Society.
Following is Lynn’s transcription of the Warrington Guardian article first published on Friday 30th August 1957 (an image of the original article appears at the foot of this page).
Mothers and girl friends wept with relief and joy as a train carrying the Warrington pilgrims who were involved in a French rail smash steamed into a crowded Bank Quay Station yesterday (Thursday).
For hours relatives and friends had waited anxiously without official news of the smash or the reported outbreak of Asian flu in the party.
Some had been on the station for nearly two hours when the pilgrims from Rome, tired but in good spirits, arrived 30 minutes late from London. People moved quickly forward searching for relatives and news of those who had remained behind in hospital.
Seven of the 95 strong party that left Warrington 11 days ago for the first international rally of the Young Christian Workers movement, were missing.
Ann Postlethwaite, an 18 year old typist, of 101 Norris Street, Orford, is in hospital in France with bruises and a facial injury sustained when the train in which they were returning home was derailed near Saint Dixier, 100 miles east of Paris, on Tuesday night.
Six others are in Dover hospitals with injuries and one, Pat Fairclough, of Albert Road, Grappenhall, with suspected Asian flu.
One of the heroes of the crash was 21 year old Albert Lloyd, a student priest, of 5 Ford Street, who lay on his back in broken glass to allow girls to scramble over him to safety. He was in hospital with back lacerations.
The others in hospital are Mary Crosby (28), 56 Leigh Street (suspected rib injury), Dorothy Sheldon, 65 Shaw Avenue (strained back) and Ruth Lawless (18) Pierpoint Street (detained for observation).
A 27 year old invalid, Joan Porter, 133 Padgate Lane, was uninjured in the crash but had a heart attack afterwards and remained in London to return home by ambulance.
The Rev Father P F Videl, curate at St Benedict’s Church, exhausted and unshaven – he had not been to bed for four days – was one of the last to leave the station after comforting parents and giving the latest news.
Still suffering from the strain and effects of her injuries, 19 year old Victoria Hogan, 16 Halsall Avenue, Orford, was in tears as she was greeted by her mother.
With her head swathed in bandages, she was taken to the Infirmary with 17 year old John Carroll – the smash occurred on his birthday – of 39 Fothergill Street, who complained of a sprained back.
Vivid descriptions of the smash and the courage of the pilgrims and Mr Lloyd were give by members of the party.
Katherine Carroll, aged 18, of 39 Fothergill Street, said Mr Lloyd, recovering from the impact of the crash, thought only of the safety of the girls.
“He lay on his back on the broken glass from smashed windows and allowed the girls to scramble over him to be lifted out of the carriage by other boys,” said Kathleen.
“He acted as a human bridge. The girls had no shoes on and could not get out because of the glass”
Allan Boyle (23) of 31 Hillfields Road, Orford, said the spirit of the Y.C.W’s was magnificent.
“There was no panic,” he said, “We were travelling about 60-80 mph when it happened.”
“One coach, carrying part of the Warrington party, rolled down a short embankment. Another coach was off the line and our coach was leaning against a telegraph pole!
The smash occurred miles from any town in pitch darkness. A relief train arrived and it was later that Asian ‘flu was suspected and 52 of the 800 pilgrims on the train isolated.
Audrey Ryan (24) of Long Lane, was in the coach that toppled over.
“It was an absolute miracle that no one was seriously hurt,” she said, ”The boys in the party were absolutely marvellous. Everyone remained calm and there as a grand spirit.”
Two British doctors on the train were tending the injured within minutes.
A French railway spokesman said the engine, tender and eight of the 12 coaches jumped the rails. Passengers waited five hours by the track before the relief train arrived. All the coaches were made of steel.
If they had been made of wood, many would surely have been killed.