A goods train careering out of control claimed the life of its driver and caused chaos when it crashed into another row of freight wagons at Falmouth rail terminus 50 years ago, writes Mike Truscott.
The fireman and driver both jumped from their 80-ton diesel engine as, with ten wagons in tow, it hurtled towards the sidings at the then Falmouth Station (now the “Docks”).
Dazed and bleeding, and with his jaw broken, 36-year-old Walter Reddaway, of Truro, slithered down a 25ft embankment and crawled 150 yards to Bar Road Post Office to summon help.
Driver Jack Dunn, 35, also of Truro, was not so lucky. With the brakes having failed, he struck the parapet of the Bar Road bridge and was believed to have been thrown back beneath the rear wheels of his engine.
The two men had taken the then regular 6.55 am freight train from Truro to Falmouth. Minor damage to the parapet and track had already been caused, just two days earlier, when another engine had derailed along the same stretch.
Post office owner Ken Rundle summoned an ambulance and dashed to the horrific scene with blankets, finding Mr Dunn lying in a pool of blood.
He was quickly joined by Mr V Huntingdon, from the Docks first aid post, and Docks policemen Sergeant R E Bowden and Constables D Littlejohn and L Crawley. Sergeant Bowden applied a tourniquet to Mr Dunn’s severed left arm.
Both injured men had emergency surgery at the Royal Cornwall Infirmary in Truro. Mr Dunn lost both hands and died in hospital.
At his inquest, the coroner recorded a verdict of death by misadventure, commenting that he might not have died had he stayed in his cab.
The train’s guard, Ken Bennett, had remained on board, to the rear of the train, unaware that it was out of control and that the crew had leapt for their lives.
The train came to a halt when the engine rushed into the sidings and concertinaed seven loaded wagons standing there.
The stationary wagons were loaded with foodstuffs and tinned goods which were scattered over a wide area. The force of the crash also burst open several of the cans of peas and soups.
A 15ft stretch of track was torn up and the buffers were twisted and splintered to matchwood. A disused water tower was demolished.
Mr Bennett was treated at Falmouth Hospital for severe shock, as were three railwaymen from Falmouth – signalman Harold Bullen, shunter Godfrey Beskeen and porter Harry Sharratt.
It was one of the worst accidents in the 151-year history of the Falmouth-Truro branch line.
Sixty-five years earlier, the up mail train came off the rails near Hill Head, Penryn, rolling down the steep bank and killing the engine driver.