Soham Rail Disaster - Commemorative Artwork
The forgotten wartime heroes who gave their lives to save an entire town was recently celebrated with a commemorative artwork. On 2nd June 1944, in Soham, fire broke out on the lead wagon of a train carrying 400 tons of bombs to the East Coast in preparation for D-Day. Only the bravery of four railway workers, two of whom uncoupled the burning wagon and drove it to safety, spared the town from total devastation. Driver Ben Gimbert miraculously survived as did the Guard Herbert Clarke, but Engine Fireman Jim Nightall and Signalman Frank Bridges were killed in a huge explosion flattening Soham station and shattering windows as far away as Wicken.
|Benjamin Gimbert G.C.
(1903 - 1976)
|James Nightall G.C.
Now the four heroes have been finally be commemorated, after decades of calls for a permanent tribute, in an interpretive artwork which stands next to The War Memorial in Red Lion Square. The artwork is the culmination of nine years of work by the Soham Community History Museum, which won a £15,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant along with £10,000 in donations to fund the project. It was officially unveiled by HRH The Duke of Gloucester on Saturday 2nd June 2007 at The War Memorial along with relatives of Ben Gimbert, Jim Nightall and Frank Bridges attending. This was followed by a Street Parade to St. Andrew's Church and Service of Dedication by the Vicar of Soham, The Reverend Tim Alban Jones MBE. There was also a 1940's themed Free Street Party on the Recreation Ground, Fountain Lane which included a Classic Vehicle Display, Free Children’s Activities, 1940’s Themed Stalls, Museum Exhibition in The Pavilion, Music by The Eel Pie Folk Band as well as free food and refreshments.
Donna Martin, Chairman of Soham Community History Museum, said: "This is something that the people of the town have wanted since 1944. We wanted to do something to raise the profile of what happened and to do something for those brave men. If they had not done what they did, Soham would not be here. These men knew they would probably die."
East Cambridgeshire District Council gave full planning permission for the artwork and Cambridge stonemasons Ivett & Reed created the monument, crafted from Portland stone and topped with a bronze plaque, along with reproductions of newly discovered photos of the disaster. While generations of Soham children have learned of the men's heroism at school, wartime restrictions preventing newspaper and radio reports from naming the town limited the disaster's impact on the national consciousness. Mrs Martin said: "This is a hugely positive thing for Soham. We wanted something for the whole town, for tourists, for the children who learn about it - something tangible for them to see. The disaster had massive national significance - the railway line was one of the main lines of communication in preparation for the D-Day landings." She praised the help given by Ivett & Reed, the Royal British Legion in Soham, the Cambridgeshire Collection and JK Memorials, as well as thanking everyone in the town who has supported the project.