Gretna 100 Project

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.

Table of contents

  1. ‘Persevere’ performance
  2. ‘Seven of the 7th’ exhibition
  3. Documentary
  4. Research and facts
  5. Who was involved in the project

‘Persevere’ performance


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.


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.



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 and facts

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.

The rail disaster in numbers

2 troop trains left Larbert station on 22nd May 1915
2 only soldiers from A company (in front part of train) at muster
2 days to clear the line of wreckage
3 hrs before the fire brigade arrived on the scene
8 minutes taken by jury at trial of the signalmen to find them guilty
5 trucks full of stores
6 officers who survived the crash sailed from Liverpool on 23~ May 1915
7 officers survived the crash
15 — age of Frederick Brookshaw – youngest soldier to die at Gretna
15 carriages on troop train 35 railway sleepers completely burned away
22 minutes late leaving Carstairs
23 hours the fire burned
35 battalions of Royal Scots in WWI
40 wounded men sent to Moor Park hospital in Preston
48 coffins buried a week later
55 soldiers called their names at roll call at the end of the day in Gretna
57 survivors arrived at Liverpool Edge Hill station
52 soldiers sent back to Edinburgh to attend the funeral
106 coffins returned for burial
115 injured soldiers taken to Carlisle and Penrith hospitals
119 soldiers of the Royal Scots retreated from Gallipoli
179 men died from Leith ward.
216 identity disks on the tree of life to remember the Royal Scots who died
227 people died at Gretna
246 injured at Gretna
300 poems collected from the Leith Observer
433 tons of troop train hit the local train at Quintinshill near Gretna
468 soldiers of the 7th battalion disembarked for Gallipoli
500 on first train carrying A and D companies
608 tons of express train ploughed into the wreckage
1007 soldiers are in a battalion
1028 soldiers disembarked for Liverpool/Gallipoli
1200 pounds raised for the memorial given to Leith Hospital
3700 soldiers lined the route from Dalmeny Street to Rosebank cemetery
250,000 soldiers died, were wounded or taken prisoner in Gallipoli

Remembering the Leith Battalion

Pte William Stewart. Mid Street, Bathgate – Age 22
Pte John Cunningham. 137 Canongate, Edinburgh – Age 29
Pte David Robertson. 69 Abbeyhill, Edinburgh – Age 20
Pte John Falconer. 35 Admiralty Street, Leith – Age 26
Pte James Hollerin. 4 Albert Building, Bathgate – Age 17
Cpl Samuel Allison. 97 Albert Street, Leith – Age 22
Pte David Angus. 23 Albert Street, Leith – Age32
Pte William Barrett. 22 Albert Street, Leith – Age 24
Pte Robert Brunton. 95 Albert Street, Leith – Age 26
L Cpl Peter Campbell. 89 Albert Street, Leith – Age 20
Pte John Cumming. 31 Albert Street, Leith – Age 17
Pte Michael Gaffney. 73 Albert Street, Leith – Age 17
Pte Robert Gibb. 148 Albert Street, Leith – Age 21
Pte George Houliston. 136 Albert Street, Leith – Age 18
Pte George Macaulay. 23 Albert Street, Leith – Age 22 *
Pte Henry Macaulay. 23 Albert Street, Leith – Age 24 *
Pte George Simpson. 134 Albert Street, Leith – Age 25
Pte Robert Swan. 22 Albert Street, Leith – Age 19
Pte William West. 174 Albert Street, Leith – Age 18
Pte George Wilson. 66 Albert Street, Leith – Age 19
Pte George Nairn. 2 Anderson Place, Leith – Age 23
Pte Robert Renwick. 96 Arthur Place, Edinburgh – Age 29
Pte Andrew Ballie. 4 Balfour Place, Leith – Age 21
Sgt William Hutcheon. 53 Balfour Street, Leith – Age 34
Pte Alexander McKay. 19 Balfour Street, Leith – Age 18
L Cpl Robert Nicholson. 16 Balfour Street, Leith – Age 26
Pte William Tinlin. 11 Bangor Road, Leith – Age 19
Pte Joseph Forrester. 21 Barony Street, Edinburgh – Age 19
Pte Alexander Clark. 14 Bath Street, Leith – Age 19
Pte Robert Smart. 31 Blackie Road, Leith – Age 19
Dr’mr William Blackwood. 37 Bonnington Rd, Leith – Age 22
Pte David Ritchie. 10 Breadalbane Street, Leith – Age 25
Pte Daniel Laing. 5 Crown Place, Leith – Age 18
Pte James Stewart. 57 Brunswick Street, Leith – 17
Pte Andrew Campbell. 3 Brunton Terrace, Edinburgh – Age 20
Pte Thomas Allan. 23 Buchanan Street, Leith – Age 23
L Cpl Archibald Cairns. 34 Buchanan Street, Leith – Age 23
Pte Daniel McNamara. 22 Buchanan Street, Leith – Age 22
Pte James Maxwell. 26 Bush Street, Musselburgh – Age 19
Pte Robert Walker. 10 Bush Street, Musselburgh – Age 17
Pte Robert White. 32 Bush Street, Musselburgh – Age 19
Pte James McSherry. 1 Cables Wynd, Leith – Age 24
Pte Francis Batten. 13 Cadiz Street, Leith – Age 21
Pte Albert Dallas. 12 Cannon Street, Leith – Age 17
Pte William Main. 225 Canongate, Edinburgh – Age 40
Pte William Melville. 11 Carlyle Place, Edinburgh – Age 30
Pte John Mc Sorley. 7 Casefield, Leith – Age 18
Pte Alexander Glennie. Cemetery Lodge, Ellon – Age 23
Pte Andrew Murray. 27 Clyde Street, Edinburgh – Age 23
Pte Daniel Wightman. 52 Coburg Street, Leith – Age 18
Pte William Love. 2 Commercial Street, Leith – Age 20
L Cpl George Bellman. 124 Constitution Street – Age 20
Pte George Dalgleish. Corporation Buildings, Leith – Age 35
Pte William Paterson. 15 Couper Street, Leith – Age 21
Pte Robert Fraser. 16 Crown Sq, Prestonpans – Age 22
Pte Sydney Hadden. 3 Crown Street, Leith – Age 23 20
Pte Thomas Barnet. 1 Cunningham Place, Leith – Age 20
Pte Thomas Murray. 6 Cunningham Place, Leith – Age 21
L Cpl Robert Angus. 57 Dalmeny Street, Leith – Age 18
Pte Henry McDonald. 20 Dalmeny Street, Leith – Age 22
Pte George Schumacher. 18 Dalmeny Street, Leith – Age 17
Cpl James Sime. 40 Dalmeny Street, Leith – Age 23 *
Pte Robert Sime. 40 Dalmeny Street, Leith – Age 21 *
L Sgt David Peters. 20 Dryden Street, Leith – Age 23
L Cpl John Brass. 13 Earlston Place, Edinburgh – Age 18
Piper George Smeaton. 13 Earlston, Edinburgh – Age 28
Pte John Finlayson. 10 East Thomas St, Edinburgh – Age 17
Pte James Symons. 14 East Thomas St, Edinburgh – Age 28
Pte Andrew Keir. 351 Easter Road, Leith – Age 19
Pte James Burnett. 3 Easter Road, Leith – Age 21
Pte Henry Cairns. 333 Easter Road, Leith – Age 23
Pte Percy Hampson. 314 Easter Road, Leith – Age 32
Pte William Laing. 292 Easter Road, Leith – Age 16
Pte John MacDonald. 228 Easter Road, Leith – Age 33
Pte L Cpl George Shaw. 4 Eastfield Place, Edinburgh – Age 31
Pte John Auld. 46 Elm Row, Edinburgh – Age 21
Pte Robert Borthwick. 42 Eskside, Musselburgh – Age 24
Pte Peter Ritchie. 43 Eskside, Musselburgh – Age 29
Pte Archibald Spence. 46 Eskside, Musselburgh – Age 18
Pte George Johnston. 23 Ferrier Street, Leith – Age 28
Pte James Scott. 26 Ferrier Street, Leith – Age 28
Pte Thomas Smith. 4 Ferrier Street, Leith – Age 20
Pte Thomas Arnould. 129 Ferry Road, Leith – Age 19
Dr’mr Alexander Grant. 57 Ferry Road, Leith – Age 16
Pte Thomas Main. 6 Fort Place, Leith – Age 19
Pte William Niven. 13 Fort Place, Leith – Age 22
Pte Edward H Morgan. 35 Fox Street, Leith – Age 22
Pte Thomas Ormiston. 4 George Street, Leith – Age 17
L Cpl Robert Ramsay. 12 George Street, Leith – Age 20
Pte Thomas Barnett. ? Gladstone Terrace, Edinburgh – Age 21
Pte Thomas Edmond. 39 Glover Street, Leith – Age 29
Pte Robert Bruce. 3 Gordon Street, Leith – Age 23
Pte Douglas Burke. 109 Gorgie Road, Edinburgh – Age 16
Pte Robert Wilkie. 8 Govanhill Street, Glasgow – Age 35
Major James DL Hamilton. Grange Loan, Edinburgh – Age 38
Pte Andrew Williamson. Grangepans, Bo’ness – Age 19
Pte John Smith. 172 Great Junction Street, Leith – Age 19
Pte Archibald Hamilton. 13 Halmyre Street, Leith – Age 34 *
Pte Thomas Hamilton. 13 Halmyre Street, Leith – Age 18 *
Pte Arthur Summers. 17 Halmyre Street, Leith – Age 17
Pte Daniel Frew. 40 Hawthornvale, Leith – Age 17
Pte Archibald Baxter. 89 Henderson Street, Leith – Age 46
Sgt Alexander Gibson. Hercus Loan, Musselburgh – Age 24
Pte James Grady. 46 High School Yards, Edinburgh – Age 38
Pte William McEwan. 22 High School Yds, Edinburgh – Age 22
Cpl Alexander Somerville. 37 High St, Musselburgh – Age 24
Pte Peter Bird. 70 Holyrood Road, Edinburgh – Age 34
Pte Thomas Dougherty. 101 Holyrood Rd, Edinburgh – Age 21
Pte Alexander Ponton. 89 Hercus Loan, Musselburgh – Age 18
Pte James Cranston. 79 Hercus Loan, MusselBurgh – Age 25
Pte John Stewart. 22 Inveresk Road, Musselburgh – Age 22
Sgt James Anderson. 84 Iona Street, Leith – Age 34
Pte James Blair. 97 Iona Street, Leith – Age 20 *
Pte John Blair. 97 Iona Street, Leith – Age 22 *
L Sgt William Flett. 83 Iona Street, Leith – Age 36
L Cpl Walter Simpson. 1 James Place Lane, Leith – Age 24
Pte Donald Porteous. 8 Jeffrey Street, Edinburgh – Age 18
Pte John Henry. 125 Jewel Cottages, Edinburgh – Age 20
Pte Arthur Colville. Levenhall, Musselburgh – Age 24
Pte William Skidmore. 6 Kings Road, Edinburgh – Age 23
Pte William Pettigrew. 144 Kipper Street, Airdrie – Age 17
L Cpl George Brown. 7 Lapicide Place, Leith – Age 22
Pte Thomas Wilson. 11 Laurie Street, Leith – Age 21
Pte William Clark.178 Leith Walk, Leith – Age 24
Pte William Paterson. 226 Leith Walk, Leith – Age 21
Pte Andrew Young. 17 Links Place, Musselburgh – Age 21
L Cpl Charles Bonnar. ? Links Street, Musselburgh – Age 23
Sgt William Allan. 11 Lochend Road, Leith – 34
Pte William Williamson. 42 Lochend Road, Leith – Age 18
Pte John Carter. 47 Lorne Street, Leith – Age 23
Pte Hugh Hart. 67 Lower Bathville, Armadale – Age 20
Sgt James Gear. 28 Maderia Street, Leith – Age 46
Pte Thomas Singer. 23 Main Street, Bathgate – Age 27
Pte George Marr. 24 Main Street, Bathgate – Age 17
Pte John Ballantyne. 100 Main Street, Camelon – 21
Pte James Mather. 11 Manderston Street, Leith – Age 25
Cpl William Milton. 4 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh – Age 38
Pte Robert Duff. 54 Market Street, Musselburgh – Age 25 *
Pte John Neilands. 56 Market Street, Musselburgh – Age 21
Pte Duncan Ross. 20 Maryfield, Edinburgh – Age 19
Bglr John Malone. Meadowbank Lodge, Edinburgh – Age 16
Pte James Robertson. Meadowview Ctg, Carronshore – Age 17
Pte William Baillie. 16 Mid Street, Bathgate – Age 18
Pte John Fyfe. 23 Milton Street, Edinburgh – Age 22
Pte Robert Hunter. 73 Milton Street, Edinburgh – Age 17
Pte William McLaughlin. 11 Mitchell Street, Leith – Age 21
Pte George Hogg. 20 Montrose Terrace, Edinburgh – Age 20
Pte James Purves. 190 New Street, Musselburgh – Age 22
Pte Robert Dugdale. 26 Newbigging, Musselburgh – 20
Pte George Muir. ?? Newbigging, Musselburgh – Age 23
Pte George Lunny. 14 Niddrie Cottages, Edinburgh – Age 19
Pte Lister Combe. 38 North Bridge Street, Bathgate – Age 17
Pte Lawrence Henry. 69 North Fort Street, Leith – Age 21
L Cpl John Suttie. 71 North Fort Street, Leith – Age 50
Pte Adam Thomson. 48 North Fort Street, Leith – Age 20
Pte John Lang. 94 North High Street, Musselburgh – Age 29
Cpl George Storie.136 Nth High Street, Musselburgh – Age 31
Pte William Hannan. 10 North Junction Street, Leith – Age 17
Pte David Peace. 20 North Junction Street, Leith – Age 23
Pte James Brown. 4 North Street, Bathgate – Age 36
Pte John Vass. 3 Old Craighall, Midlothian – Age 24
Pte Thomas King. West End, Broxburn – Age 18
Pte John May. 21 Orwell Place, Edinburgh – Age 29
Dr’mr John Inglis. 13 Panmure Place, Edinburgh – Age 27
Pte Napoleon B Kerr. Parsons Green Terr, Edinburgh – Age 21
L Cpl David McLean. 54 Pitt Street, Leith – Age 21
Pte Andrew Bell. 50 Primrose Street, Leith – Age 21
Pte David McDiarmid. 28 Primrose Street, Leith – Age 29
L Cpl Robert Dawson. 32 Prince Regent Street, Leith – Age 23
Pte Robert Stevenson. 26 Prince Regent Street, Leith – Age 17
Pte James Cook. Ramsay Place, Leadhills, Ln’kshire – Age 27
L Cpl Alexander White. 124 Restalrig Road, Leith – Age 23
Cpl George Mackay. 23a Rossie Place, Leith – Age 36
Pte James Tinsdale. 4 Rossie Place, Leith – Age 49
Pte James Adams. 35 Rothesay Place, Musselburgh – Age 23
Lieut Christian Salvesen. 6 Rothesay Terr, Edinburgh – Age 24
Pte John Moran. 5 Roxburgh Place, Edinburgh – Age 44
Pte Robert Batey. 22 Ryehill Gardens, Leith – Age 18
Pte Archibald Mason. 16 Salamander Street, Leith – Age 19
Pte Charles Orr. 16 Salamander Street, Leith – Age 20
Pte Alfred Bird. 2 Shrubhill House, Leith – Age 21
Pte James Hannah. 44 Sloan Street, Leith – Age 18
Pte Duncan Scott. 8 South Elgin Street, Leith – Age 30
Pte William Bissett. 54 South Street, Armadale – Age 22
Pte Robert Hay. 22 South Street, Musselburgh – Age 18
Pte Alex McIntyre. 27 South Street, Musselburgh – Age 21
Pte Robert Leckie. 2 Springhill, Shotts – Age 26
Pte James Dick. 15 St Andrews Street, Leith – Age 24
Pte Charles Macpherson. 12 St Anthony Street, Leith – Age 29
Cpl Michael Kerr. 48 St Mary’s Street, Edinburgh – Age 34 *
L Cpl William Mennamann. 4 Stanley Place, Edin- Age 31
Pte Alexander Nicol. 13 Stanley Place, Edin – Age 37 (Piper)
Pte Andrew Brown. 6 Store Row, Musselburgh – Age 28
Pte John Burnett. 63 Tennant Street, Leith – Age 21
Pte George McDiarmid. 14 Tennant Street, Leith – Age 30
Pte William Murray. 60 Tennant Street, Leith – Age 18
Pte Adam Turnbull. 30 Tennant Street, Leith – Age 37
Pte George Garrie. 30 Thorntree Street, Leith – Age 20
Pte John Goodwin. Tollbooth Wynd, Leith – Age 18
Pte Robert Little. Townsend Street, Belfast – Age 24
Pte Peter Smith. 9 Trafalgar Street, Leith – Age 16
Captain John Mitchell. 101 Trinity Road, Leith – Age 32
Pte George Duff. 78 Tron Square, Edinburgh – Age 28 *
Pte William Park. 13 Viewcraig Row, Edinburgh – Age 20
Pte James Herd. 4 Waverley Park Terrace, Edinburgh – Age 24
Pte Richard Carlin. 25 Waverley Park, Edinburgh – Age 23
Pte George White. 50 West Bowling Green St, Leith – Age 18
Pte Frederick Brookshaw. West Graham Street, Leith – Age 16
Pte James Anderson. 195 West Main St, Armadale – Age 31
Pte Walter Mighten. 81 West Rigg, Blackridge – Age 19
Pte John Suttie. 20 Wilkie Place, Leith – Age 20
Pte Thomas Williamson. 1 Windsor Street, Edin – Age 19
Pte William Scott. 3 Yardheads, Leith – Age 19
Cpl David Jack. 22 Bardon Mill, Northumberland – Age 22* Denotes: – Brothers.

Account of the lead up to the disaster

Territorial Force was formed under Home Secretary Robert Haldane in 1908. This was seen as a home army and were under no obligation to serve overseas. It was formed out of the old Volunteer army with units of the militia and yeomanry.

August 1914 : in Dalmeny Street, Leith. Part of Lothian Brigade, Scottish Coast Defences. 24 April 1915 : transferred to 156th (Scottish Rifles) Brigade, 52nd (Lowland) Division.

A and D Companies were involved in a rail accident at Quintinshill near Gretna on 22 May 1915 while en-route to Liverpool from Larbert in Stirlingshire. 210 men were killed and 224 injured, forming the majority of the 473 casualties of the worst disaster in British railway history.

Sailed from Liverpool 24 May 1915, going via Egypt to Gallipoli 14 June 1915.

Returned to Egypt 8 January 1916.

Moved to France, landing at Marseilles, 17 April 1918.

Account of the disaster

Occurred on the morning of Saturday May 22nd 1915.

Near Gretna, at Quintinshill

There were 5 trains involved. The two signalmen George Meakin and James Tinsley were imprisoned for their breach of railway regulations.

The troop train was carrying 470 men and officers of the 7th Battalion Royal Scots. They were heading to Liverpool where they would go to the Dardanelles.

According to Lieutenant Colonel Peebles – officer commanding the battalion – there were 16 officers and 470 men, the right half of the Battalion, A and D companies, machine gun section and signaling section.

The trains had 15 passenger carriages which were non-corridor type made of wood and brought into service because of the war. All but one were lit by gas from cylinders.

London to Glasgow express had left London 30 minutes late. It was carrying civilians and servicemen going on leave.

The local was a slow passenger train from Carlisle to Beattock and connected with the exress from Moffat to Glasgow and Edinburgh. This was know to railwaymen as ‘the parliamentary’ or ‘the parly, ans and act of parliament had obliged railway companies to run slow third class passenger trains with low fairs.

 A Welsh coal train was returning to Wales after unloading at Grangemeouth naval base – coal need by fleet at Scapa Flow. It was only being transported by train as there were German submarines in the Irish Sea.

Heavy goods train had 45 loaded wagons and should have left Carlisle at 4.50 to go north, but was an hour late.

The crash happened in the early hours of the morning. Two engines of the express ploughed into the troop train. The noise of the impact was heard in Gretna Green.

Given the gas lighting, canisters and the wooden frame of the troop train, the fire that broke out caused mass injury and death. Many of the troops inside were burned to death. Survivors and rescuers who had come from the neighbouring villages (Gretna, Springfield and surrounds) heard them cry out.

Many were trapped and were heard to cry for someone to shoot them to relieve them of the pain and the horror of burning to death. Some called for a sword to take of the limb that was trapped.

Piper Thomas Clachers recounted how he was rescued, his hands and face burned, and how he witnessed an officer shooting dead a private lying under an engine tender who had asked to be shot. He also saw another soldier caught between buffers who cut his own throat with a jack-knife.

The survivors, many of them injured themselves, worked to rescue other passengers alongside local people who arrived with bandages etc. Troops had removed the carriage carrying ammunition which ensured the fire didn’t catch there.

The fire was fierce and prevented many rescuers getting near. 

Coffins were delivered by train from Carlisle and Glasgow. A barn had been used as a mortuary, but it was filled and the steading behind was used, as was the mortuary in Gretna. Many of the bodies were burned so badly that there was little of a body left, and cinders of more than one person were placed in a single coffin.

A special train was organised from Waverly station to Carlisle for relatives of those injured. Major Smith of the 7th Battalion at the station strongly advised only those who had received word that their relatives were injured should travel, those who had no knowledge to remain.

The bodies were to be returned to Leith on the Sunday night.

Account of the return to the Dalmeny Street Drill Hall

About 100 of the dead were brought back on Sunday night. Admission to the station at Waverly was restricted, but thousands of people lined the route down Leith Walk to the drill hall. Soldiers from the 16 Battalion lined the route.

The Drill Hall is a B-listed building because of this architectural heritage, but also its historical significance in the local area. In 1915 the Gretna disaster, the worst crash in the history of British rail travel, killed 227 people and injured 246 others. 102 of those killed were young men from the 7th (Leith) Battalion of the Royal Scots, on their way to Liverpool, where they were to leave for Gallipoli. The bodies of the victims were laid out in the Drill Hall prior to burial in Rosebank Cemetery, across Leith Walk in Pilrig. The Drill Hall still stands today as a memorial to one of the greatest tragedies to affect the community of Leith.

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 in the project

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

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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

  • Gallery

    Bagpipes being played outside the Drill HallThe centenary of the disaster was marked by the community.

    Actors performing 'Persevere'
    ‘Persevere’ was a piece of theatre which guided the audience around the Drill Hall and enabled them to catch glimpses of stories of Leithers 100 years ago.

    The Tree of Life, displaying the names of of all who lost their lives in the Gretna rail disaster
    The ‘Tree of Life’ permanent exhibition installation created by Pilmeny Youth Centre and young people from schools in the area features the names and ages of the 216 men who died in the disaster.

    The mural, along the side of the old shooting gallery, is of J. Mculloch, a survivor of the Gretna rail disaster. It was painted by internationally renowned street artist Guido Van Helten in 2013 and was facilitated by LeithLate.