excerpt from The Evening Telegram and Post, May 27, 1915
“Then when the second collision occurred the bottom came out of the compartment, and he, along with Private Arthur Colville, Musselburgh, dropped down and crawled along searching for a way out. They found none and turned. Fire had broken out, and the flames were close upon them. Colville suggested prayer, and they offered prayer.”
These were the final moments in the life of Arthur Balfour Colville, a 24-year old Private in the 7th Battalion The Royal Scots, and a victim of Britain’s worst ever train accident. Last month I published three postcards showing Musselburgh men from the 7th Btn The Royal Scots, posted by Arthur to his family three days before the disaster at Gretna Green. Although I identified some of the soldiers in these photographs I have not yet identified Arthur. Records show that his photo appeared on page 5 of the May 28, 1915 edition of the Musselburgh News but unfortunately their archives are not online (and I’m on an island 4400 miles away).
Arthur Balfour Colville was born on Feb. 7, 1891 in Inveresk, East Lothian to Andrew Colville, a watchmaker, and Margaret Anna McPherson. He was one of 12 children, 11 of whom survived to adulthood. In 1911 seven of the children were living at home with their parents, grandmother and one grand-daughter in a 9-room house at 7 Hope Place in Musselburgh. 19-year old Arthur was a gas surveyor for the local gas company, the same company that employed his older sister Isabella as a shop-keeper.
Arthur joined the Territorial Force when he enlisted with the 7th Battalion The Royal Scots on April 16, 1913. Private A. B. Colville was assigned regimental number 1440 and signed the Imperial Service Obligation form when his unit was mobilized in August 1914.
Prior to the war Arthur’s two older brothers James and Archibald emigrated to Canada and enlisted with the 8th Battalion, C.E.F. at the start of the war (they were assigned service numbers 39 and 41).
On April 24, 1915 Archibald was reported missing at the Second Battle of Ypres. The Colville family would still have been reeling from that news when the reports of the troop train collision at Gretna Green began spreading through the streets of Musselburgh on the morning of May 22nd. 225 soldiers lost their lives in the accident, including Arthur Balfour Colville. He is memorialized at the family grave in the Inveresk Parish Churhyard and at the Edinburgh (Rosebank) Cemetery. Older brother Archibald is memorialized at the Menin Gate in Ypres.