Dreadful Railway Mishap

The young Perce Mewett                Buckrabanyule, Victoria

The Bendigo Advertiser (Victoria) carried the headline of – Dreadful Railway Mishap – in its issue dated Monday, 25 March 1912. The byline was from Charlton, 23 March:

A painful accident happened at the Buckrabanyule railway station this morning. A young man named Hewitt (sic), a cleaner, was employed at shunting operations, when he missed his footing. The wheels of the truck passed over both feet, badly crushing one and causing a compound of the ankle of the other foot. The sufferer, who was hurried to Charlton, was attended by Dr …….. and then ordered to the Wycheproof Hospital.

The Argus (Melbourne) of Wednesday, 3 April 1912, carried a paragraph headed WYCHEPROOF:

The young man, Percy Mewitt (sic), who was injured in a railway accident at Buckrabanyule, has had one foot amputated at the ankle, also several toes that were crushed to a pulp. He now lies in the Inglewood Hospital.

Buckrabanyule (population now app. 14) was a small town on the Bendigo-Charlton-Wycheproof railway line, approximately 40 km south-east of Wycheproof.

Alan’s comment: The unfortunate young man was 19-year-old Percy Edwin Mewett who became my father 17 years later. In our family circle his accident was never discussed but I do remember my mother saying that he was a fireman on a locomotive when he slipped on the wet steps as he climbed back after retrieving his cap from the track and fell under a wheel of the slowly moving steam engine. I now believe that her version to have been romanticised; it was possible that she was not aware of the full facts of the accident.

More light on the accident was given about 40 years ago when I visited Wycheproof, by Mrs Doye who had been a neighbour of the Mewett family in the town. She doubted that Perce had been a fireman on locomotives; she insisted that he had been a cleaner (of the locomotives stationed at Wycheproof). Her husband had been a guard there and they were recalled from their honeymoon for the newly-wed husband to take over from the injured Perce.

It appears to me that Perce was a cleaner at Wycheproof but was probably standing in for Mr Doye as guard on the train that had stopped at Buckrabanyule to leave or pick up a truck in a shunting manouevre. I can only guess that Perce was inexperienced in the procedure and as a result of a misunderstanding of the loco driver’s intention, found himself between trucks as the shunted truck bore down on him; my guess is that he missed his footing as he dashed to be clear.

Shunting of rolling stock (carriages or trucks) was always dangerous; the locomotive, with much chuffing and puffing, would push an uncoupled truck a short distance leaving it to roll unassisted and silently towards or away from the train. In the incident Perce would have been coupling or uncoupling trucks and anticipating the driver’s intentions. Little wonder that a railway company in England kept an ambulance wagon permanently stationed at a busy railway yard to give treatment to injured shunters.

Perce Mewett was rehabilitated to the Victorian Railways workshops at Newport, Victoria, as a telephone-switchboard operator. It was there that he met Margaret Pollock, employed at the  workshop canteen, when she came to order supplies by telephone. They were married in 1915 and their eldest son, Colin, was born at Footscray in 1917. Perce left the VR to become a private hire car driver with South Yarra Motors, and later in 1934 he drove for Harry Parker’s Chatsworth Motors in East Prahran. His amputated ankle and foot were replaced with a wooden prosthesis (with its straps and metal fittings) which had to be fitted daily, leaving him with a clumping gait, a far cry from the modern-day prostheses which allow wearers to engage in athletic sports.

My thanks to Darryl Mewett for drawing my attention to the two newspaper reports quoted above. Photo of the young Perce Mewett from Ruby Weaver scrapbook. Photo of Buckrabunyule railway from Google Earth.

Published in: on December 15, 2016 at 6:30 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. This is what history is all about. Thanks.

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