Gretna 100 Project

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On the 22nd May 1915, at Quintinshill near Gretna, the worst train disaster in British railway history left over 200 men from the 1/7th Royal Scots dead. This ‘Leith Battalion’ trained at the Drill Hall on Dalmeny Street which later became the focus point for families looking for information after the disaster. 

Working with Out of the Blue in this same building 100 years later, a group of community actors from Active Inquiry and Strange Town Young Company researched and devised a piece of promenade theatre, Persevere, which guided the audience around the Drill Hall enabling them to catch glimpses of stories of Leithers 100 years ago saying goodbye to sons and brothers, hearing the news of the crash and coping with the aftermath.

In addition, a group of community researchers worked with Citizen Curator and artist Jan-Bee Brown to research and curate an exhibition, Seven of the 7th, exploring the disaster through the story of seven soldiers who were involved. This exhibition also included The Tree of Life, produced in partnership with Pilmeny Youth Centre and artist Heather Scott, in which pupils from Leith Academy researched and helped to make a glass dog-tag for each of the 216 soldiers who died.

Out of the Blue Drill Hall based film maker Ray Bird’s brilliant documentary film of the Gretna 100 project  powerfully illustrates how a participatory arts project can have a long lasting impact for participants and audience alike.

Click on the titles below to learn more about the project.

+ ‘Persevere’ performance

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Playwright Duncan Kidd worked with Active Inquiry and Strange Town theatre groups using archival research from the Gretna 100 research group as the basis for his script.

Performances of Persevere took place at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall in May 2015 with sold-out dates during Leith Festival and Forest Fringe in 2015.

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difficult not to be moved and shaken by the profound sense of place, time and continuity conjured up by this fine 24-strong community company
– Joyce McMillan- The Scotsman – ‘Persevere’ review 5th June 2015

It was a great experience to be part of a project which engaged with the history of our local area, whilst simultaneously engaging with the community that lives here now
– Gretna 100 participant

+ ‘Seven of the 7th’ exhibition

The Seven of the 7th exhibition, curated by artist Jan Bee Brown and Citizen Curator in collaboration with the Gretna 100 research group, ran from 22nd May until 13th August 2015. Excerpts from filmmaker Ray Bird’s Gretna 100 documentary were also shown as part of the exhibition.

Matchbox boards

The following PDF documents are transcribed from the exhibition boards which featured in the exhibition.

Pte. John Williamson Ballantyne Pte. Peter Cumming & Pte. John Cumming
Pte. Robert Renwick Lt. Noel Graham Salvesen
Pte. Robert Hill Sime Pte. Archibald Simpson
Pte. Alexander Thomson Officers of 1st/7th The Royal Scots

Seven of the 7th feature by Phyllis Stephen of The Edinburgh Reporter.

+ Documentary

Two short films created by film maker Ray Bird premiered at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall on 21st November 2015; one about the disaster and one tracing the Gretna 100 project.  The short film documenting the Gretna 100 project was also included in a visual display at the Museum of Edinburgh from January – April 2015.  View the documentary in full below. 

+ Research

The Gretna 100 research group played a vital part in the project, collecting images, memories, stories and objects related to the disaster which then became the starting point for the theatre production and exhibition. 

Gretna 100 Quintinshill Rail Crash

Gretna 100 research group member and descendant of one of the crash survivors Heather Thomson investigates how the sacrifice of the 1/7th Battalion of the Royal Scots is being remembered.

Images from the time period

G100-UnknownStreet May 1915
This image shows soldiers possibly marching off to the train station, where they would board a train intended for Gallipoli.
G100-InTheField Saturday 22nd May 1915
Soldiers recovering in a nearby field moments after the rail disaster occurred.
G100-families outside the drill hall May 1915
Once news broke of the train crash, families and friends of the soldiers aboard the trains gathered outside the Drill Hall in Dalmeny Street waiting to hear the list of confirmed deceased. The deceased were brought back to the Drill Hall on Sunday 23rd May for identification by the families.
G100-FuneralatPilrigChurch Monday 24th May 1915
The funeral procession started at the Drill Hall in Dalmeny Street, to Leith Walk, and down Pilrig Street to Rosebank Cemetery where the Common War Grave still marks those soldiers who lost their lives in the crash. Scan courtesy of  J Russell.
G100-Soldiers_Nurses Pictured are some of the survivors of the disaster recovering from their injuries.
G100-FightingInGalipoli There are records of survivors of the crash shipping back out to Gallipoli once fully recovered.

Due to the high volume of documents sourced by our research group, not all are uploaded to the website. If you wish to view this research, please contact us.

+ Who was involved

heritagelotteryfundlogo This project was generously funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
GreyG100-OOTBlogo Out of the Blue Arts & Education Trust own the Drill Hall and co-ordinated the Gretna 100 Project.
GreyG100-ActiveInquiryLogo Active Inquiry worked alongside Strange Town Young Company to produce the ‘Persevere’ performance.

  • Gavin Crichton – Director
strange town logo Strange Town Young Company worked alongside Active Inquiry to produce the ‘Persevere’ performance.

  • Steve Small – Director
GreyG100-CitizenCurator Citizen Curator

  • Duncan Bremner
GreyG100-PilmenyYouthCentre Pilmeny Youth Centre designed and produced the ‘Tree of Life’ permanent exhibition installation alongside young people from schools in the area.

  • Bryan Maughan
GreyG100-LeithFestival Leith Festival hosted a performance of ‘Persevere’ in June 2015.
GreyG100-ForestFringe Forest Fringe hosted a performance of ‘Persevere’ in August 2015.
GreyG100-RareBird Rare Bird Media

  • Ray Bird
DavidBomfordDesign David Bomford Design produced the branding and posters for the Gretna 100 Project.

  • David Bomford

+ Press & enquiries

If you would like further information about the Gretna 100 project, please email marketing@outoftheblue.org.uk

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  • Gretna100 logo (flyer used for Gretna100 with an image of the Drill Hall circa 1915)


    A community centenary commemoration investigating and interpreting the impact on the Leith community of the worst train crash in British history

  • Gretna 100 Documentary

  • Photos from the project