Families remember - Service held to mark centenary of railway accident

Wilmcote station

The centenary of a tragic railway track worker accident, in which four men lost their lives, will be remembered by relatives on the 24 March 2022.

  • 23 March 2022
  • 3 min read

The centenary of a tragic railway track worker accident, in which four men lost their lives, will be remembered by relatives on the 24 March 2022.  

Dr Mike Esbester, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Portsmouth, has been investigating the tragic accident near Wilmcote Station in Warwickshire as part of the 'Railway Work, Life & Death' project; a collaboration between the University of Portsmouth, the National Railway Museum and the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick. The project researches accidents involving British and Irish railway staff that occurred before 1939.

At 7.40am on 24 March 1922, a steam engine hit a gang of four men maintaining the railway track near Wilmcote station. Tragically all four men were killed.  They were Edward Sherwood (43), George Booker (43), Lewis Washburn (40) and William Bonehill (27).  


A hundred years ago railways were amongst the most dangerous places to work.

Dr Mike Esbester, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Portsmouth

The men were members of the National Union of Railwaymen (now the RMT). They were trying to get their work done, without a look-out (a member of the team whose job it was to keep watch for oncoming trains). This echoed the accident at Stapleton Road, Bristol, around 6 months earlier, which killed 6 men and was marked last year as a result of work by Mike Esbester and the Railway Work, Life & Death project. Tragically, the Wilmcote men discussed the Stapleton Road accident the week before their own deaths.  

The Wilmcote men were all buried together at the local church, St Andrews, in a service reported to be attended by hundreds, with thousands lining the funeral route. The mayor of Stratford opened a fund to collect money for the men’s’ dependants. All were married, and left behind at least 12 children. The relatives of the men will be gathering at the station on 24 March for a short service of remembrance to mark the centenary. 

Dr Esbester says: “A hundred years ago railways were amongst the most dangerous places to work.  In 1913 alone, there were around 30,000 casualties, including around 500 deaths. Today, track workers are much better protected but there are still ongoing issues.” 

One of the particularly tragic things about the Wilmcote accident is that it was so similar to the Stapleton Road accident near Bristol, which occurred almost exactly six months before. Accidents to staff of this magnitude were unusual. Rather than four deaths at once, most worker accidents occurred in ones or twos. The scale of the Wilmcote accident therefore made it more visible than the ‘regular’ accidents which cumulatively killed and injured more people. Track worker safety remains an issue to this day, and action is being taken to make improvements.


Remembering is important and helps us to understand the human impacts events like these have on ordinary people’s lives. It enables us to see these people not as a statistic but as individuals. Uncovering the untold stories of these everyday workers helps us relate to our ancestors.

Dr Mike Esbester, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Portsmouth

Dr Esbester says, “Remembering is important and helps us to understand the human impacts events like these have on ordinary people’s lives. It enables us to see these people not as a statistic but as individuals. Uncovering the untold stories of these everyday workers helps us relate to our ancestors.”

“Today, working on the railways is much less risky. Statistically it’s now much safer but there continue to be accidents and improvements are still required. It’s not an issue that’s gone away despite the progress made by the industry over the last 100 years.”

Dr Esbester and the Railway Work, Life & Death project have been working with interested groups to ensure the Wilmcote men are remembered at the centenary of the accident. This includes the Heart of England Community Railway Partnership, the Wilmcote station adopters, the Railway Chaplain for the area, the RMT Union and the Stratford Herald, with support from Network Rail, West Midlands Railway (the current railway station and service operator) and The National Archives of the UK.

For further information about the project please visit the Railway Work, Life & Death project’s website or visit the Twitter page at @RWLDproject.