Thursday, 27 January 2011

March Museum.

Due to the wet miserable weather, today was an ideal day for the museum visit. We had been trying to visit the March Museum since arriving here last July. The museum is housed in what used to be South District Infants school. Originally built in 1851 as a Girls High School it is now a grade II listed building. As seems to be the case in many organisations these days it is manned by volunteers.

March Museum

Besides the memorabilia of the Fens, farming, boot making and carpentry tools. There was large displays of cameras, projectors, radio’s,record players and general Victoriana. The centre of the display was the railway history which was the making of March as a town. The railways were a big employer in the district with the Whitemoor marshalling yards which were one of the biggest yards in Europe.

The biggest story was of the Soham railway disaster in 1944. A train of 51 wagons loaded with ammunition was on the move from March when upon arrival at Soham near Cambridge, the driver, Ben Gimbert who lived in March found the wagon immediately behind the loco was on fire. Fireman James Nightall uncoupled the wagon from the rest of the train and Ben started to move the loco and burning wagon forward. At the signal box they conversed with the signalman as a Mail train was due in the area and Ben wanted to get the wagon away as soon as possible. Unfortunately the wagon load exploded killing James and the signalman instantly. Ben was thrown 200 yards back on to the station platform. The station house and signal box were destroyed and many houses in Soham were badly damaged. The amazing thing was that the Station master and his family survived the blast even though the house was badly damaged. The loco survived the blast to be recovered and returned to duty but the tender was a complete write off.

Both Ben and James were awarded the George Cross Medal and in 1981 two class 47 loco’s were named after them. When these 2 loco’s were withdrawn from service 2 new class 66’s now proudly carry their names. Had these gallant men not done what they did, the whole train could have exploded which could have wiped out Soham completely. The whole incident is fully documented in 4 A4 catalogue books and makes very interesting reading.

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