Forth Bridge War Deaths
As war reports of men killed at the front filtered back to Queensferry there were also deaths at home with at least five soldiers lost in accidents on the heavily-guarded Forth Rail Bridge in the first two years of the conflict.
Hugh Paterson was only 16 and too young to fight in France as he hoped. He was a sentry with the Territorial Army, 6th Black Watch Reserve Battalion, and his unit provided the guard for the big red bridge. Hugh, from Pitlochry where his dad ran a cycling business, confidently posed at photographer Peter McGill’s studio near the Hawes Pier.
In a mist-shrouded night of Wednesday, 25 November 1914, near Dalmeny station, sometime between when he started his watch at four in the morning and 0745, Hugh was run over by a train. His body was horribly mutilated.
Corporal John Thomson, 28 originally from Kirkwall, Orkney and later Edinburgh, was stationed with the Royal Garrison Artillery which defended the Forth from gun emplacements on Inchgarvie Island below the rail crossing and on both sides of the firth. On 17 March 1915, at about 2300, John fell from steps leading down from the bridge to Inchgarvie. The hand rail was reported to be insecure. He was buried at Warriston Cemetery in Edinburgh.
His father, William Thomson, followed him to the grave four months later.
Captain Miller and Company
Seven months later another grisly accident on the bridge took the lives of two Royal Garrison Artillery soldiers, seriously injured three and left five others hurt. Captain Archibald Craig Miller, 33, was marching behind thirty of his men along the narrow footpath from Inchgarvie to Dalmeny station when they were hit from behind by a train heading south.
A report at the time said they were expecting a train to pass on the other track. Captain Miller, from Roslin, and Gunner Private John Sinclair, 26, died instantly and a story in The Scotsman said Corporal Petrie from Kirkcaldy died later in hospital after his left leg was amputated.
Captain Miller may not have realised that, due to repair work on the bridge viaduct, single track working was in operation. The South bound trains would be behind the soldiers, not facing them.
The Forth Bridge repairs were necessary due to excessive wear on the railway viaduct and its supports. The wear had occurred for two reasons: the weight of locomotives had almost doubled since the bridge was opened in 1890; and a design change required by the Board of Trade, intended to prevent another Tay Bridge disaster, unwittingly caused further damage.
Single track operation was required when sections of the viaduct were replaced during 145 Sundays from May, 1914 to April, 1920, including the war years. Sir William Arrol & Company, the bridge builders, employed as many as 200 men on the repairs and had them housed in fourteen dwelling houses erected by the North British Railway Company.
©2016 Mark Meredith