A MUSIC lecturer has described his poignant return to site of a horrific rail crash which claimed the life of his father nearly 70 years ago.

Michael Burnett, 74, spoke as he finalised arrangements to commemorate the anniversary of the little-remember tragedy.

The musician’s father, Flight Sergeant Arnold Golightly, 29,was one of ten people who died in the collision between a sleeper train and derailed goods wagons at the Browney signal box, south of Durham City, at 5.40am on January 5, 1946.

The crash, one of the biggest on the line, sparked a major rescue operation and attracted hundreds of “gawpers” from around the area, but has become all but forgotten.

Mr Burnett, who is also a composer, has set out to rectify that by arranging for a commemoration during a Choral Evensong, at Durham Cathedral, at 5.15pm on January 16.

He now wants to get in touch with anyone affected by the tragedy – specially a then three-year-old-girl Yvonne C Clifford, who his father is believed to have saved by falling over her and shielding her from the impact.

Mr Burnett said: “My father, who was a founder member of 607 Squadron at Usworth Aerodrome, was on active duty and was returning home to Sunderland when the crash happened.

“I was four-years-old at the time and vividly remember hearing activity downstairs at home. I sensed that something was seriously wrong.

“But no one told me anything then or subsequently about what happened. It was of the age when someone died there was no point of going on about it you moved on.”

Mr Burnett’s mother, Isabella, remarried and moved to Chelmsford, in Essex, where he grew up.

It was only later that it filtered through to Mr Burnett that his father had died in a train crash.

At the prompting of his daughter, Joanna, who had started research, Mr Burnett visited the national newspaper archive.

He said: “I got this bound file and it fell open on the front page with a picture of my father on it – and I had never seen him before. It was also the first time I had read about the crash.”

The accident happened when a goods train going south decoupled at the top of an incline.

The train was stopped at the Browney signal box, but the rear wagons caught up and collided with it, spreading wreckage over both lines.

The oncoming express train from King’s Cross smashed into the derailed trucks.

So terrific was the impact, it was heard up to two miles away. The express train was thrown to its side up the line, while the front coaches were telescoped and compressed as one mounted the other.

The Home Secretary Chuter Ede, who was on a sleeping carriage, escaped unhurt.

Miners from Browney Colliery and soldiers of the Durham Light Infantry joined in the rescue.

One newspaper account reported: “Ice-cream traders did a roaring trade here this afternoon with hundreds of gawpers, who arrived in cars, by cycle and on foot to view the wrecked sleeping express.”

Mr Burnett returned five years ago to look for the crash site. It was by chance he met local farmer Tom Tate, 81, who recalled seeing the aftermath at the time and took him to the spot.

Mr Burnett said: “I felt a sense of release when first visited site. It suddenly became real.

“It is such a busy line. The express train was going over 50mph when it crashed.

“Just the trains going past past brings back that sense of momentum - all that iron and the noise. “A car crash is terrifying but the momentum of all that weight. . . “

The commemoration on January 16 will be mentioned at evening prayers on January 5.

Anyone who was involved in the crash should contact Mr Burnett on 07748-167897.