Harrow and Wealdstone Rail Crash, 8th October 1952 by George Phillips

The Reverend John Richards stands in the mangled wreckage of the overnight express from Perth, a local passenger train and an Express train heading from Euston to Liverpool.

Around 1000 people were aboard the three trains and 112 people died in the crash and 340 were injured. It is the worst peace time rail crash in the UK.

The picture won ‘Britannica’ news Picture of the Year for 1952 and appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world. There is something about the picture of the priest surrounded by destruction that makes us realise how loose our grip on life can be. At 0819 people wee sitting on the train considering their day ahead and within minutes over a hundred people’s lives had ended.

It was 0820 as the overnight express from Perth crashed at speed into the rear of the 0731 Tring-Euston commuter train standing at the Harrow and Wealdstone station platform.

At that moment an Express train from Euston was heading north to Liverpool and was derailed by the wreckage caused by the collision of the other two trains on the track.

’It all happened in a second there was a terrible crash and glass and debris showered on me’ said John Bannister a commuter talking to The Times newspaper. He added:

“I blacked out for a moment and when I came around, I found I was lying on the line with debris on top of me. I managed to free myself and drag myself on to the platform.”

Reverend John Richards, vicar of St John the Baptist church, Harrow arrived on the scene to offer comfort to those affected and was greeted by this nightmare vision.

The picture taken by photographer George Phillips who was working for Planet News, then owned by UPI.

George heard about the crash on radio and then from an American reporter based in London who offered George a lift in his car.

He had One 9x12cm glass plate on a Palmas camera left in his bag when he saw this picture and it was George’s last plate. George wasn’t sure if it was one he had already exposed.

Georges father Cecil Phillips, a London based staff photographer for the New York Times had said to George

“Don’t follow the crowd, find the crux of the crash and go from there”

… he did and got the scoop.

George worked for a year as staff photographer for the Sun based in Bristol before being joining the Daily Mirror as their staffer for the west country. George was based in Bristol from 1971 and his career spanned nearly fifty years.

It has been announced that photographer George Phillips died on the 12th of November 2018 aged 84.

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