On This Day: Bee Gee Robin Gibb survives train crash which killed 49

Julian Gavaghan
On This Day: Bee Gee Robin Gibb survives train crash which killed 49

NOVEMBER 5, 1967: Bee Gees star Robin Gibb was among the survivors in the Hither Green rail crash that that killed 49 people on this day in 1967.

The Staying Alive singer, who died last year from cancer, cheated death at 17 while travelling through south London with his wife-to-be Molly Hullis.

He was on board the Hastings to Charing Cross service when 11 of its 12 carriages derailed after it ran into broken track at 70mph.

The disaster, which left 78 passengers injured, occurred only a mile from Lewisham, where another train crashed ten years earlier and killed 90 people.

A British Pathé newsreel shows the smashed and twisted wreckage at Hither Green and filmed rescuers using a rope to tug on a carriage in a bid to right it.

Firefighters were also seen crawling through the remains in an attempt to find survivors.

The newsreel had put the death toll at 55 and the injured at 139, but the casualty list turned out to be lower.

Gibbs, who claimed that travelling in a First Class may have saved his life, recalled the horror in an interview only four months before his death last May at age 62.

He told the Daily Mail: 'Soon after we had passed Lewisham, I heard what sounded like rocks hitting the train.

 

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'I looked round in alarm and said to Molly: ‘This train is going to crash!’

'Our carriage tilted to one side and then broken glass flew all over us like Niagara Falls.

'I had long hair, and the glass got tangled in it. It took me days afterwards to remove the shards.


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Then a piece of steel railway line shot through a window and passed my face. If I had been standing an inch forward, I would have been decapitated.

'The train came to rest. Our carriage was separated from the others.

'Molly and I looked out of the broken window, and all we could see were silhouettes of  all the other carriages – upside down, sideways, in the embankment, in the road.

'Molly and I were covered in oil but otherwise unhurt. All around us people were screaming and moaning.

'We managed to climb out of a window and I helped other people out of their compartments.

'Through it all, the Bonfire Night fireworks were flaring all around us.'


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It later emerged that a broken rail had caused the crash, which accelerated plans to replace jointed track with continuous welded lines.

There was also criticism that the train had been travelling too fast after the speed limit was raised four months earlier to 90mph.

It was temporarily restricted to 60mph on that stretch while maintenance work improved the line.


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Gibb, who formed the Bee Gees with brothers Barry and Maurice, went on to marry Hullis the following year.

They had a son and a daughter – Spencer and Melissa - before divorcing in 1980.
In 1985, he wed his second wife Dwina Gibb, a Druidry follower with whom he had a third child, Robin-John Gibb.

Towards the end of their marriage, he had an eight-year affair with Claire Yang, who bore him a daughter, Snow Evelyn Robin Juliet Gibb.