For enthusiasts and researchers of the Great Eastern Railway

RH086: The Soham Explosion, LNER 1944.

NEW MARCH 2021. In Soham during the early hours of 2 June 1944 the first wagon on a train carrying bombs caught fire. The train crew separated it from the rest of the train, but before they were able to take it out of the town it exploded. The fireman and a signalman were killed, the driver suffered life-changing injuries. The story has been told several times since then, but detailed contemporary accounts are less common.

The main item here  is scanned straight from an original copy of the weekly Ely Standard and Cambridgeshire Times for 9 June 1944. The paper was a large broadsheet, and surprisingly for that stage of the War ran to eight pages. The whole of the front cover was devoted to Soham, and so was about half of one of the inside pages. The headline was ‘Three Rail Heroes Save Cambridgeshire Town’. There were some photographs.

Ben Gimbert, the driver, lived at an address in March which they gave. James Nightall, the fireman, came from Littleport and Frank Bridges, the signalman, was a Soham man. Both the latter towns were on the paper’s ‘patch’, and all three men were described. James Nightall was soon to have been married, and Frank Bridges' eldest son had been killed in Sicily earlier in the War.

This was quite a momentous issue. As well as this awful event, there was good news too – we had made significant progress in Italy, and information was breaking about a landing in North France – D-day had been on the 6 June. That report is included.

So too are the official notices which filled quite a lot of the paper. These were instructions or advice from various government departments on how people were to run their lives – ranging from the issue of new ration books to how many potatoes farmers must plant. Individuals must have felt bombarded with these notices, and they certainly give a feeling for life in those difficult times. One’s eyes always alight on the period adverts in an old paper, so a sample of these is provided as well.

Tucked into that copy of the newspaper was a cutting from an Ely Standard of three years later, 6 June 1947. It says ‘Soham Honours Rail Explosion Heroes’, and describes the unveiling of commemorative plaques in a report illustrated with photographs.

The LNER was proud of the actions of its staff on this occasion, and mentioned them in the LNER Magazine. For completeness, a few extracts from it are appended here.

The file concludes with the ten-page typescript official report to the Ministry of War Transport on the incident.

The file has bookmarks. It will be available to download as soon as payment has been made. You go to your account and click on ‘Downloads’. New customers create an account as they place their order.

File
Pages 23
File Size (MB) 26.3

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