Hixon rail crash: Rescuers, relatives and villagers mark fatal Staffordshire crash's 50th anniversary
It was exactly 50 years since that dreadful day when 11 people were killed in a horrifying rail crash but Bernard Gidman remembered the details as if it had been yesterday.
Now aged 73 and with a home in Stafford, he was on the second fire truck to reach the scene after a passenger train ploughed into a lorry carrying a massive transformer across a level crossing at the Staffordshire village of Hixon on Saturday January 6 at 12.20pm.
Mr Gidman, who was living above Rugeley fire station at the time and was among those who marked the anniversary at the weekend, recalled: "When we arrived there were carriages all over the place. Some were sticking up into the air and others were on their side while the rest were still upright on the track. It was total devastation. Unless you actually see and experience something like that it is impossible to appreciate what it was really like.
"As soon as I got there I was told to go to the front end where the engine had hit the transformer. The damage was terrible with everything misshapen. The impact had brought the train to a sudden stop and the front carriages had concertinaed together.
"I was sent to help a chap in what had probably been the second carriage. He was trapped so tightly that I could barely believe he was still alive.
"The metal and the material with which the carriage was made were wrapped around him and could have saved his life. It was a miracle he was not killed.
"It took us an hour to cut him free. I heard later that he had survived. I never knew his name but I hope he enjoyed life after that."
David Baldwin was a 21-year-old Pc when he rushed to the crash scene. He explained: "I passed a line of people four abreast walking away from the track carrying their luggage. Two or three carriages were still on the track. I remember seeing a dead girl who had been put in an ambulance. Several others of the deceased were still to be recovered."
Mr Baldwin, who retired as an Inspector after 32 years police service and lives in Stafford, continued: "I saw some terrible things while on duty but I will never forget the train crash. It is like storing photos in your head. You keep seeing them."
The two men were among over 150 people - relatives of the deceased, at least one survivor, rescuers and villagers - who gathered at St Peter's Church, Hixon to see a memorial commemorating the dead unveiled by Mrs Janet Hopkins whose sister Margaret Griffiths was among those who had lost their lives.
She had travelled with her family from Marlow in Buckinghamshire to take part in the ceremony and the blessing of a memorial garden at the church which took place on Saturday exactly 50 years to the minute since the accident.
Mrs Hopkins said: "It is an emotional day for me and I would like to thank all those local people who worked so hard to make it possible."
She inadvertently triggered the event over a year ago when, wondering if anything would be done to mark the 50th anniversary, she Googled the name Hixon and came up with a phone number with the Wellington Fields Allotment Association which is based in the village.
"After her phone call they formed a committee which raised over £1000 which has paid for the memorial stone and helped with the garden," declared local historian and committee member Mr Malcolm Garner who lectures on the rail crash and its aftermath.
He added: "It was the most awful catastrophe and occured at one of the early automatic level crossings. As a result significant changes were made to the way they were operated throughout the world. Sadly it cost 11 lives but has inadvertently has helped to save hundreds of others since then."
Dennis Clews, a teenager when travelling on the ill fated train with his parents, who both lost their lives, was also among those present along with 76-year-old Eric Cookson who has lived in the village all his life and was working 50 yards away from the point of impact.
He said: "I just heard one big bang and rushed outside. The engine was buried inside the transformer. I have never forgotten what it looked like."
Rev Mike Cadwallader, who blessed the new garden and said prayers alongside the memorial which both stand alongside the church at which he is the recently arrived team vicar, said: "I have been bowled over by the desire of the village to mark this occasion in a way that will ensure those who died will never be forgotten."