Hither Green remembered


Following our short article on the Hither Green train crash of 1967, with its tragic loss of life, including several passengers travelling from Rye, Kevin Williams – whose sister died in the crash – gives his very personal memory of that day – Editor

I wonder if we all have the same memories of Rye’s bonfire celebrations in the late 50s and 60s? The years when the whole town got involved, when the event didn’t need tourists for it to succeed.

Floats pulled by tractors and Land Rovers queued along all the streets of the Tilling Green Estate. It was an honour to be chosen to appear in a tableau, to balance on a farm trailer and be applauded like a returning, all-conquering Caesar, and the ultimate – to be considered old enough to be trusted to march through the town as a torch bearer! What great theatre.

During the evening of Saturday November 4, 1967, I had no idea that it would be the last Bonfire Night I approached with any enthusiasm.

The previous Saturday (October 28), my family and I had set off from Rye to attend an early Saturday wedding ceremony at Fulham Town Hall, Fulham Broadway. It had to be an early slot, as Chelsea were playing West Ham at 3 o’clock that afternoon. Everything needed to done and dusted, photos taken, guests moved on their way to the reception at Imperial College, well before fans started to arrive for a 1-3 West Ham victory.

Dianne Williams’s on her wedding day October 28 1967

My sister Dianne had met Bill Reid some six months earlier, just after qualifying as a teacher, then accepted his marriage proposal in a small Enfield Italian restaurant while being serenaded by Nancy and Frank Sinatra singing Something Stupid. How do I remember all this? So at 22 yrs and 20 days old, Dianne was now looking forward to returning to school after her first half-term break as Mrs Reid.

What next for the happy couple during the half-term break? Why not spend a few days with our Welsh relatives down in the Rhondda, then head to Rye to celebrate Bonfire Night with fellow “old scholars”? They did both and looked forward to their future.

Before heading out the door of our Rye home in The Link to sing in the evensong service at St Mary’s, on Sunday the 5th, I said goodbye to my sister as she happily ironed her husband’s work shirts, without considering I would never have that opportunity again.

What happened during that November 5th night 50 years ago, was commemorated in two services this year on Sunday November 5 at Hither Green Station and at St Mildred’s Church just down the road from the site of the disaster.

Attending both gatherings, I enlightened people about the wonderful Hither Green “achieving against all odds” award, created by the Rye Old Scholars Association (ROSA), in memory of Dianne Williams, Ricky Spencer and sisters Gay and Judith Breeds.

All at The Hither Green Community Association and St Mildred’s Church were so pleased that their neighbourhood is and has been associated with something so positive for so many years. I promised to forward them annual photos of the presentation evening and details of the Rye College student who received the award.

May I again thank ROSA for having the compassion and imagination to create the award. Time marches on and some memories fade, but the tragedy and the above four names should never be forgotten. The School’s presentation evening allows me to inform people about both. I feel very grateful and privileged to be allowed to represent the Spencer and Breeds families for this event. The fact that Ricky and Dianne were school friends, likewise, Judith and Gay were school friends of my sisters Daphne and Glynis allows me to be passionate about all four. Also, the joy the recipient displays when called forward from the audience is a joy to behold and proves that the Hither Green Cup is valued by the student and is evidence that the school acknowledges “grit and determination” as well as academic attainment.

Some 20 years after the event, whilst carrying my PA into a London college gig, I had one of those “I’ve been here before” feelings. Walking around the room, I was very quickly transported back to Dianne’s reception in the same room at Imperial College. However, the room seemed much bigger than I remembered, but, halfway along the side of each wall were the same room-dividing shutters still functioning.

Like seeing The Who on Hastings Pier one soggy Sunday night in August 1966, some memories never leave you.


Photos: Library image and courtesy Kevin Williams

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  1. I well remember 5th November 1967, I was on duty at Woolwich Fire Station when we received a call, as it was ‘Bonfire Night’ at first we assumed it was another ‘Bonfire’ we were called to, imagine our horror as we arrived at the sight of that ‘Train Crash at ‘Hither Green, the devastation was horrific, I crawled through the wreckage, seeking survivors, but in the light of my torch all I found was devastation and death, I wont describe this, it still is very vivid in my memory.
    The following morning I went off duty, arriving home I prepared to take my wife & new born ‘Son’ to Heathrow to catch a plane home to Ireland (where her 18 year old sister was dying of cancer) , she could see I was upset and thought it was because she was leaving me for a while, that was also true, but inside i was crying and filled with the horror of my experience.
    So I still remember 5/11/67 and pray for those casualties often, as I write this tears still fill my eyes, sad for all the relatives. Didn’t know there were any ‘Memorial Days’ for that event, I would have attended.
    Condolences to all relatives.
    Clive Jones ‘Fire Officer (retired)


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