From the Darlington & Stockton Times of September 22, 1917

“A SHOCKING disaster to a troop train occurred early on Saturday morning at a Yorkshire camp, involving the loss of four lives and injury to over 40 others,” said the D&S 100 years ago.

There are no locations or names in its report, just in case the enemy was reading, but the report refers to an accident at Catterick Camp when the motion caused by men getting on board a string of carriages set the string rolling away, without an engine being attached.

Loading article content

“While several hundred soldiers were entraining in a camp siding, the train of ten coaches suddenly began to move after about 120 had entered the carriages, and broke away down the inclined track at a great speed, gathering increased momentum as it proceeded,” said the report.

“After going about a couple of miles the train left the metals at a sharp curve with most disastrous results. The first coach broke its couplings and dashed at a speed of 60 miles an hour towards the terminus of the line. Others were derailed, one being hurled with terrific force into a field, where it turned a complete somersault, while another was thrown with almost equal violence on to its side.”

It was in the field that the four soldiers, members of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, were killed.

The runaway coach, at the front of the train, made it to Catterick Bridge Station, where the military railway joined the Richmond branchline. Fortunately, it had to climb a slight rise to reach the station, so it slowed by the time it smashed into the buffers, severely shaking and bruising the scores of men inside but without any breaks.

The mystery, said the coroner, was how the Westinghouse brakes came to fail.

“A witness said it seemed evident that the brakes must have been tampered with,” said the D&S. “It was possible that some of the men, who would no doubt be like schoolboys on a holiday at the thought of going away, had quite innocently turned round the wheels which controlled the brakes, not knowing what they were.”

However, the commanding officer said there had been no horseplay.

There is, though, a curious line in the D&S report which says the location of the accident, “in a remote part of the country” had “no doubt contributed very largely to the alarming and incorrect rumours” which had quickly circulated. The D&S doesn’t say what those rumours were.

But The Times, of London, gives an intriguing clue about who was rumoured to have tampered with the brakes.

It reported: “The coroner said that unless one of the German prisoners from an adjoining camp had done it – and he could not see how that was possible – he did not think anybody would have tampered with the brakes deliberately. Whether or not some of the soldiers, who, no doubt were high spirited, had turned the wheel, he did not know. He did not think that anyone could be held responsible.”

A verdict of accidental death was returned, and the men’s bodies were sent for burial in their home towns in Scotland.

From September 23, 1967

HOME Secretary Roy Jenkins announced that the North Riding and Teesside police forces were to merge – despite immense opposition.

“During the public inquiry, only a Home Office witness, Mr AUR Scroggie, one of HM Inspectors of Constabulary, could say a good word for the proposed amalgamation,” said the D&S. “Opinion within and without the police forces concerned was opposed.” The merger, of course, didn’t go head.

The paper also reported that 26 GPs in a 30 square mile area around Richmond were volunteering to join the police, fire and ambulance services in responding to traffic accidents.

“At present, road accident victims seldom see a doctor until they are in hospital, and this may be too late,” said the D&S. “Under the proposed scheme, it is planned that a fully trained doctor will attend the scene of accidents, so that medical treatment can begin on the spot.”

From a distance of 50 years, it is amazing that such a scheme was necessary, but it was the brainchild of Dr Kenneth Easton, of Catterick Village, who had become concerned about the injuries – particularly head injuries – he was seeing as the motorway age caused cars to speed past his door on the A1 at ever greater speeds.

The D&S said: “Of the 8,000 people killed in road accidents each year, one third died on the way to hospital.”

In the year to February 2016, 1,780 people were killed on Britain’s roads.

The D&S of 50 years ago also contained an article about Masham Sheep Fair which had been the largest of its kind in the north, held around September 17 and 18 each year. Up to 100,000 sheep had been offered in the show’s heyday.

“It was a great cavalcade,” wrote George Jackson. “All the animals were driven on foot and their journey to Masham began weeks before the fair. The flocks had to be driven slowly and allowed to graze to keep them in condition. The owners followed in horses and traps or on horseback, but the drovers and dogs, like the sheep and lambs, travelled on foot.”

Every room and outhouse in Masham was taken. “It was a time of great hospitality which called for huge bakings of bread, teacakes, pies, pasties and sweetcakes, as well as the boiling of hams and the roasting of large joints of beef,” he said. “The great speciality of Masham Fair was cold roast beef and pickled red cabbage.”

The First World War brought the heyday to an end. “Now with improved highways and modern transport, the flocks are conveyed to auction mart…but an auction sale can never have the fascination and glamour of the great Masham Fair of old,” he concluded.

However, 30 years ago, Masham Fair was revived, and now once again “fills the town with sheepy fun and entertainment”. It has raised nearly £160,000 for Yorkshire charities and this year has a full schedule of events – sheep racing, sheep dogs and, of course, Black Sheep beer – over both days next weekend.