The day my life changed - A van crossed the level crossing

17th December 2010 at 00:00
There was nothing the train driver could do

The date is printed on my mind: July 26, 1986 - the first Saturday of the summer holidays. I was active in the Green Party at the time. My wife, two sons and I were travelling down from Bridlington to Hull, where there was a demonstration against dumping nuclear waste.

At about 10am, we were nearing a small village called Lockington. The government of the time was forcing British Rail to be more economical. In a bid to save money, British Rail cut corners.

There was no barrier or manned crossing in front of the tracks, just flashing warning lights. A van went across the level crossing. There was nothing the train driver could do.

There was a sudden judder and the train went all over the place. I jumped on top of my two lads to try to protect them.

We always used to travel in the front carriage of the train, but that day I had a funny feeling about it. I insisted we sit near the back of the last carriage.

Of the nine people who died, eight were in that front carriage. The other was the passenger in the van - a young lad.

I had one more premonition that something was wrong. Minutes before the crash, I put down my book and readied myself for something. The minute we hit the van, I was mentally prepared.

Once we came to a halt, there was complete and utter silence. Of the whole carriage, I was the only one up and moving.

Being a teacher, I went into organisational mode. We climbed out of the door and realised the seriousness of the crash. There were carriages all over the place. We then came across our first body.

We were calm and in deep shock as people started to emerge from the train in various states of disrepair. Then the silence was punctuated with people's screams.

I made sure my family was OK before going back into the train. I smashed an emergency box and got out a first aid kit and fire extinguisher.

One of the carriages still had its engine running and I was worried about a fire starting. I crawled under the train, found a box with buttons on it and started pressing them. I eventually switched the engine off.

I then went back into the train to see if I could help. I bandaged various broken arms and head wounds and made a badly injured old lady as comfortable as possible.

I saw a couple more dead bodies on the track and covered one with my coat. What I saw lives with me still. My eldest son has never recovered from it.

My family and I went through the classic stages of post-accident trauma: shock, disbelief, criticisms, accusations and anger. It lasted for years, but in those days no one understood the psychology of trauma.

Our biggest criticism was that we were forgotten. That day changed my life forever, but within six months it was never talked about.

When I returned to work in September, I received no help or support from a health perspective or from my colleagues. I got nothing from the school and nor did my children. A nearby secondary lost four pupils that day, but no counsellors were brought in. I was determined to improve things.

A colleague was a Cruse bereavement counsellor, and we decided to write a trauma and bereavement policy for the school - the first one in the country, I believe. It worked on two levels. Firstly, we offered our services to staff or pupils who were suffering from trauma or bereavement. Secondly, we encouraged the school to create an organisational response should a major incident occur.

I developed ME in 2000 - the result of a viral infection, but I'm convinced the trauma played a part. No one should have to suffer in silence like we did.

Richard Myerscough retired from teaching geology at Bridlington School, East Riding of Yorkshire, four years ago. A memorial to the victims of the Lockington rail disaster was erected this year. He was talking to Hannah Frankel.

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