1hr 14mins
Dir: Géza von Bolváry
Starring: Carlyle Blackwell and Benita Hume

A crook wrecks trains in order to discredit the railway companies

This British-German silent crime film, an early Gainsborough production, was one of the last ever made as a silent. It later had a soundtrack added and includes a very spectacular train crash. The elaborate crash scene was filmed at Salter’s Ash crossing, near Herriard, on the Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway. A set of six SECR coaches and SECR F1 Class 4-4-0 No.148 were bought from the Southern Railway by Gainsborough Pictures who painted the loco grey with ‘United Coast Lines’ lettering on the tender. After a number of rehearsals, the train was set off under its own steam by its crew who then jumped clear as it slowly accelerated down the incline to collide into a Foden steam lorry. The impact, which destroyed the locomotive and the lorry, was recorded by 22 cameras and has been described as ‘the most spectacular rail crash in cinema history’. Dynamite carried aboard the lorry created a good explosion, whilst the track beyond the crossing was undermined to help aid the derailment. The end result was indeed spectacular, with all but the last pair of wheels on the rear coach leaving the rails. The train was of course empty but was then ‘filled’ with passengers who can be seen alighting from the wreckage in the ensuing aftermath. After filming was completed the wreckage was cut up on site by contractors, although one coach underframe remained in the bushes until the 1950s, long after the closure of the line for the second time in 1932. Even to this day with all trace of the track bed having disappeared, when the land is turned during cultivation the occasional piece of wreckage is unearthed. Nothing as elaborate has taken place since, with only the planned destruction of a remotely-operated Class 46 diesel No.46009, destroyed in the Old Dalby nuclear flask test crash, coming anywhere close to the levels of destruction involved (a crash seen very briefly in the 2006 film This is England – qv). The crash scene from The Wrecker was later used almost in its entirety in the 1936 film Seven Sinners and again in the 1964 film The Earth Dies Screaming (both qv). The images taken from the cameras at the crossing were used to depict several crashes, with the derailment appearing a number of times throughout the film, but from different angles. Unfortunately, the crash scene has somewhat overshadowed the other railway scenes in the film, which feature a good variety of Southern Railway traction and some of it quite rare. Other locos seen in the film include an ex-SECR D Class 4-4-0, two Maunsell 2-6-0s, one of which is U Class No.803, L1 Class 4-4-0 No.756, ‘King Arthur’ Class N15 4-6-0s No.452 Sir Meliagrance and No.773 Sir Lavaine, a very rare shot of ex-LSWR D15 Class 4-4-0 No.463, the first of only ten built, and an even rarer shot of an ex-LSWR H16 Class 4-6-2T, one of only five built. The freight trains at the end are hauled by an ex-LSWR 700 Class 0-6-0, an ex-LSWR K10 Class 4-4-0 and what appears to be an ex-LSWR Urie-designed H15 Class 4-6-0. Some early 3-car Southern Railway ‘Nutcracker’ EMUs are also visible at London Bridge. Originating from the LSWR, these were the forerunners of the SUB’s. Identifiable locations in the film for these scenes include Sevenoaks Tunnel along with Chislehurst, Elmstead Woods, London Bridge and Byfleet & New Haw stations. There are also some good shots at London Waterloo with a surprisingly rare view looking out from the station’s main entrance onto Mepham Street with the viaduct carrying the railway between Charing Cross and Waterloo East in the background, full of period advertising which is history in itself. A number of drivers-eye views feature, one of which passes through the then recently opened Petts Wood station, but it is not known where the train was passing when Joseph Striker climbs over the coal in the tender to warn the driver to stop the train, nor when Benita Hume was clinging to the side of the train! The signal box at ‘Pagham Moor Siding’ is also unidentified, though what looks like a vintage LNWR locomotive pulls up with a freight alongside. This wonderful film was in fact based on a play of the same title by Arnold Ridley and Bernard Merivale. The Ghost Train of 1923, a play famously made into three films, had also been written by Arnold Ridley.