‘There were no screams – the passengers were exceptionally calm’

The trains came to rest against Havant signal box. The Brighton train is on the left.

The trains came to rest against Havant signal box. The Brighton train is on the left.

Naval veteran recorded Portsmouth’s changing landscape

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No matter how minor, there was a time when all railway incidents were reported in the local press.

Strange then that this accident at Havant Junction on Friday, June 23, 1939, the site of the infamous Battle of Havant in 1858, was never investigated and was not the subject of a published formal accident investigation.

The same view today with a modern train from Waterloo passing the decommissioned signal box

The same view today with a modern train from Waterloo passing the decommissioned signal box

This may have been something to do with the outbreak of the Second World War a few weeks later and also that no-one was killed.

It appears obvious that there was a run-by, nowadays called a Spad (signal passed at danger), and that one of the drivers was at fault.

At one time, before privatisation, incidents like this were ’squared up’ and the matter kept within the confines of the railway company. The employees involved were given a ticking off and that was it.

At 4.10pm the fast down from London Waterloo and a train from Brighton collided side by side as both entered the same section passing over New Lane level crossing on the stretch leading into Havant station.

The front carriage of the Waterloo train being lifted after the 1939 crash.

The front carriage of the Waterloo train being lifted after the 1939 crash.

Both front carriages were damaged and the impact of the collision lifted three cars into the air just under the footbridge (part of which had to be replaced) damaging a railway cottage and level crossing gate.

Mrs Humphries, the wife of the station foreman, said she had been sitting near the wall of the cottage and had just moved away when debris crashed into the house.

Three of the cars were derailed. Although there were no fatalities one passenger, a Mrs Carpenter of Station Road, Bosham, had to have two fingers amputated. Mrs Turner, the wife of a railwayman travelling from Chichester, said she heard a lot of splintering and the breaking of glass and she knew immediately what had happened.

She told an Evening News reporter: ‘There were no screams and the passengers were exceptionally calm.’

Such was the disruption that the biggest crowds since 1918, when soldiers were returning from war, gathered at Petersfield with 1,300 passengers waiting for trains to Portsmouth and London.

Eventually buses were brought into use and the majority of the crowd was cleared by 8pm. All the damaged carriages were shunted into Havant for later inspection. As the line to Waterloo via Eastleigh was not electrified at the time many steam-hauled services were utilised and special trains ran non-stop to the capital to clear the backlog of passengers. Many passengers arriving at Portsmouth Harbour station from the Isle of Wight wondered what on earth was going on.

Trains were reinstated by early evening and the first train through was the 8.50pm Portsmouth Harbour to Waterloo.

This paper reported that services from Waterloo were running normally by the early hours of Sunday morning with the Portsmouth newspaper train arriving bang on time.

Can you imagine that today?

There would be days of delays, questions and health and safety having their two pennyworth.

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