A commemorative plaque has just been erected at Holmes Chapel railway station to commemorate a tragic train crash 80 years ago during the war years.

The Second World War had just started, and the railways were extremely busy, but human error can always raise its head.

It did at Holmes Chapel railway station at 1.23am on September 14, 1941. The 12.35am express mail and passenger train from Crewe to Leeds was moving away from the stop when it was struck at the rear by the 12.50am express passenger train from Crewe to Manchester.

The Leeds train was moving off at about 5mph in Holmes Chapel station. The Manchester train had just reduced speed but was still travelling at 30 to 35mph when it ran into the rear of the Leeds train shattering two carriages to matchwood and damaging the next one along.

On the Manchester train, the first two carriages were damaged but with few casualties. The engine of the Manchester train tore through the last two coaches hurtling wreckage and detritus across both lines and the platforms.

On the Leeds train, nine people were killed and 21 detained in hospital, with another 24 treated for their injuries. Many of them were servicemen, as were the people who were not severely injured and who, if able, went to the smashed carriages and helped in the rescue.

The station master and his staff were commended for their prompt action when awakened by the crash and ran to help.

The Home Guard and local ARP members, and the landlord from the nearby Swan Inn were awakened by the massive bang and went to give aid. The pub was used as a dressing station before evacuation to hospitals, including those at Winsford and Macclesfield.

The driver and fireman of the Manchester train managed to escape just before the engine was thrown onto its side.

There is a list of the casualties on the new plaque now fixed to the station. But a few mentions regarding them. A 13-month-old girl called Eileen Ann Pritchard from Derby Terrace, Wrexham, was killed, and her mother seriously injured.

The guard, Mr Swann, was in his van on the Leeds train accompanied by an off-duty guard. Goods Guard Gregory who was travelling to Manchester to take over a train. Mr Swann saw the lights of the engine at the rear hurtling towards them and shouted to Gregory to jump clear as he jumped off himself, but Mr Gregory was sitting down and not quick enough. He was killed outright.

Several of the passengers displayed the utmost heroism. One, Pilot Officer William Evans, whose leg was almost severed, refused a cup of tea and said: “There must be others more badly injured.” He died later in hospital.

The Ministry of War Transport nominated Colonel AC Trench to be the investigator into the crash. After extensive enquiries and interviews, it was decided that the accident was a signalling error.

The person responsible was one of two signalmen. Signalman Miller of the Bradwall signal box or Signalman Perks of Holmes Chapel. The blame was found to be both; Signalman Perks had not realised the time-lapse between “Line Clear” and “Entering Section”.

He had been busy putting on the kettle for a cup of tea and leaving the box to collect his supper from his bike.

Miller admitted that he was engrossed in a book, and as far as his duties were concerned, he thought all was in order. Missing out the technicalities involved in the operations of signal boxes, the locker that Miller was sitting on reading his book was an arm’s length from the block instruments. It may have been simply answering them without getting up and doing it correctly. Miller was in the habit of updating the log at Bradwall sometime after the required actions and simply by memory.

Miller was 31 years of age with four years of service with the company and two and a half in the Bradwall box with a clean record. The colonel thought it was wrong that he should have been working night turns in the box for more than two years. A job that was incredibly boring as the box was only open for one night shift to deal with the heavy night goods traffic. It was wrong to put him alone in such a situation.

And that was the finding of the investigation.