Back in 2014, we were asked by Active Inquiry and the Out of the Blue Arts and Education Trust, to create a film documenting their social history project to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the worst British rail disaster in history. Over the space of a year and a half we followed various theatre rehearsals with Active Inquiry and Strange Town Young Company, local historians, traced Royal Scots archives, engaged with Pilmeny Youth Centre, worked with Citizen Curator in creating an exhibition to mark the event, and spent a long time with researchers trying to find out more about the tragedy. In the end, we created a short promo film used in the exhibition itself called the ‘Tree of Life’, this longer 30-minute film called ‘Gretna 100’ about the arts project which Out of the Blue are using to promote the history of their building and their link with the past, and have entered another 30-minute film called ‘The Leith Battalion’ about the tragedy itself into festivals with the hope of reaching a wider audience.
On the 22nd May 1915, at Quintinshill near Gretna, the worst train disaster in British railway history left over 200 men from the 1/7th Royal Scots dead. This ‘Leith Battalion’ trained at the Drill Hall on Dalmeny Street which later became the focus point for families looking for information after the disaster.
Working with Out of the Blue Arts and Education Trust in this same building 100 years later, a group of community actors from Active Inquiry and Strange Town Young Company researched and devised a piece of promenade theatre, Persevere, which guides the audience around the Drill Hall and enables them to catch glimpses of stories of Leithers 100 years ago saying goodbye to sons and brothers, hearing the news of the crash and coping with the aftermath.
“difficult not to be moved and shaken by the profound sense of place, time and continuity conjured up by this fine 24-strong community company”
Joyce McMillan- The Scotsman – ‘Persevere’ review 5th June 2015
In addition, a group of community researchers worked with Citizen Curator and artist Jan-Bee Brown to research and curate an exhibition, Seven of the 7th, exploring the disaster through the story of seven soldiers who were involved. This exhibition also included The Tree of Life, produced in partnership with Pilmeny Youth Centre and artist Heather Scott, in which pupils from Leith Academy researched and helped to make a glass dog-tag for each of the 216 soldiers who died.
The Gretna 100 project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.