The Ghost Children of the Railway Tracks

Charfield, Gloucestershire

The Ghost Children of the railway tracks

This was an odd piece to research as there were mentions of the figures of two ghost children that were seen on a railway track in the Gloucestershire village of Charfield. These ghostly children were mentioned in every article, either online or in a book, but it would seem there was no firsthand experience of seeing these figures. So, these sightings, or lack of, seem to be part of the puzzle I came across when looking further into what had occurred on these railway tracks in 1928. Had these ghostly figures become part of the legend and rumour mill, seeing as this puzzle will probably never be resolved.

The backstory behind these ghostly children has its roots on the day of 13th of October in 1928. A night mail train, travelling between Leeds to Bristol and had passengers aboard, was approaching Charfield station in the early hours. Further up the track, a goods train was being shunted onto a siding. The signalman put the signal to red so that the mail train would stop, and that the goods engine could safely get on the track. For whatever reason, the driver and his mate saw the sign as green and proceeded, at speed, ahead.

Charfield Rail crash 1928

It took just seconds for the horrific accident to happen. The mail train crashed into the goods train. Most of the passengers were asleep when the crash happened. The mail train ploughed off the tracks and into another goods train. It landed on its side, only for the first three carriages to smash up under a bridge. It happened with such force that one passenger, James Gaston, was thrown through the roof and landed on the road that went over the bridge. He had serious injuries and later died in hospital. The mail train had gas pipes for lighting, and they fractured and the ashes from the firebox set those whole three carriages alight.

Villagers were awoken from their sleep to the screaming of those passengers who were trapped and did their best to rescue who they could. All the carriages had caught fire and some passengers who were trapped by their arms or legs under the wreckage, begged those who were trying to rescue them, to cut off their limbs as they did not want to burn to death.

One harrowing account was from a passenger who was travelling with his wife and widowed sister, and they were in the second coach. The man, Louis Huntley, spoke of him telling his wife to jump out of the carriage, which she did, but he saw his sister, trapped from the waist down by the weight of the mangled wreckage. He couldn’t pull her free, and as he saw the flames coming nearer, he had no choice but to jump and leave his poor sister there to die in the flames.

A public house nearby, called The Railway Tavern, became the place to treat any injuries. More than 30 people were treated for injuries and there were 11 gravely injured passengers.

Because of the intensity of the fire, there weren't many human remains to identify those who had died. Personal effects such as rings, watches, even a distinctive shirt were used to identify those who had perished. The total number of those who died was 16 (although some reports say 13 and others say 15, I have put 16 as I had this number from the official inquiry into the accident) and this is where the mystery of 2 children begins.

When the search of body parts and personal effects was taken, the remains of 2 children were found but only the trunks of the bodies. They were lying close together near the Gloucester side of the bridge and had no personal effects on them. Close by, there was a shoe, which had partial remains of a foot inside and these shoes measured around 9” in length. The children’s remains were approximately aged, one male who was 10-15 years of age and the other child was aged around 3 to 7 years of age. No one claimed these poor children.

All the other people who had died in the horrific crash had been identified apart from these 2 children and 1 other passenger. The other passenger was later identified by a survivor from the accident, and he was Mr Nixon, a Clerk from Halifax. The survivor was shown a photo of Mr Nixon and identified him as he had shared a compartment on the train. Mr Nixon never returned home to his mother and had written to her the day before the crash, saying he would be getting the train. His being declared as dead was the first time under the new Coroner’s Act that being declared dead without an actual body was actioned.

During the inquest, which was held in the nearby village of Wotton-under-Edge (where the haunted Ancient Ram Inn stands) a porter at Gloucester station said he had seen 2 unaccompanied children travelling together on the train. He said one was a girl around 12 and the boy was around 9 years of age. He noticed they had school caps on and had their own tickets. He could not recall how they were dressed. Another possible clue to the children’s identity was a school badge on a blazer that was found. The motto on the badge was “Luce Magistra”, which roughly translates to “With the light as my teacher”. This badge was found to belong to a girls school in Cornwall but it had been found out that a consignment of 10 of these blazers had been a package on the train and had been sent from a Bradford firm so this clue was a dead end.

These poor children were labelled as Number 9 and Number 10 as no one claimed them despite publicising these 2 children countrywide. Their remains were buried in the churchyard in a mass grave. There has been a memorial stone for those who perished at the site of the crash and the children are included as “Two Unknown”. 

Mysterious woman in Black ghost children Charfield Gloucestershire

Rumour spread that the 2 torso’s that were found were either mannequins/dummies or the bodies of jockeys as it was felt that the coroner mistook the remains for children. People couldn’t understand just why these children were never claimed and that’s probably why the public spread these types of rumours as the truth was too much to bear. 

Another rumour began in 1929 and stopped in the 1950’s. This rumour was that an older looking lady would be driven to the memorial stone on a regular basis. She would be dressed head to toe in black. The only person said to have witnessed her was a former German prisoner of war, Joe Kloiber and even he was reluctant to talk about it. He said the woman always arrived in a chauffeur driven limousine and that the lady would lay flowers down at the memorial stone and seem to pray. He never spoke to her but said she had been elderly and came 2 to 3 times a year and did the same thing. 

Another rumour was started, and this began in 1937. A woman called Alice May Desborough, aged 26, who resided in a bedsit in Chelsea told a reporter that she had been travelling on that train that night with her father, mother and 3 brothers. She said she remembered nothing of the actual accident but only of walking up and down the embankment and watching the fire blaze its way through the carriages. She wore a locket similar to one found in an unclaimed suitcase, which bore her surname ‘Desborough’. She claimed this had been her family’s suitcase and all her family had been killed in the crash. None of the identified victims had this surname. Alice Desborough had attended the Old Bailey as she had been found guilty of sending a malicious letter to the Chief Medical Officer of Health, asking for money as she was alone with a young daughter and twins. The father of the twins, who she claimed had been a doctor, had been killed when serving in France and if she wasn’t sent the money she requested, she would kill herself and her daughter.

Apart from this one newspaper report, her account of being in the crash was taken no further.

So, this is the backstory behind the sightings of these 2 child ghostly figures that have been seen near to the crash site. Could it be a matter of just rumour of these ghosts being seen? As I couldn’t find even one account from a witness, I think it would be wise to consider these sightings are, like the last 2 accounts, most probably just rumours. Unless you’ve personally seen these ghosts?

Ghost children railway track