On Sunday evening, November 5, 1967, 17-year-old Robin and his 19-year-old girlfriend, Molly, boarded a crowded 12-coach express train at Hastings, England, about 2 hours southeast of London on the English coast. Robin and Molly were returning to London from a weekend at her home in the country. The train cars were packed to capacity and many passengers had to stand for the duration of the trip.
Some of the passengers remarked that the train was travelling faster than they had expected. Just four months earlier, the speed limit on the route connecting London to Hastings was raised to 90 miles per hour. They had only about 30 minutes left in their journey and were nearing Hither Green when the train started to jolt. Molly reassured Robin that the train was always rough over that stretch of track and said it would soon smooth out. She was unconcerned but Robin was uneasy. The ride only got worse. Then, Robin heard “what sounded like rocks hitting the train.” He turned to Molly with a concerned look and said “this train is going to crash!” Without warning, the train lurched to one side. Robin reached up for the train’s emergency chain but missed it and fell. Robin instinctually grabbed Molly and held her tight. At that moment, the train rolled over and over.
Time seemed to pass in slow motion. Broken glass was flying everywhere and tangled in Robin and Molly’s hair. As the train cars tumbled, Robin heard the crunch of metal mixed with screams from some of the passengers. A piece of steel railway line shot through the cab of the train car and missed Robin’s face by only about an inch. Robin, Molly, and surrounding passengers were covered with oil which had spewed from an unknown source. He held tightly to Molly. After what seemed like an eternity, the tumbling train finally came to a stop. Eleven of the twelve train cars were destroyed.
The sound of crunching metal and breaking glass subsided. The screams and moans of injured and frightened passengers seemed to come from all directions. Robin and Molly were in a state of shock but were otherwise unhurt. Robin and Molly looked out of one of the broken windows and saw the silhouettes of what remained of the other carriages. Train cars were upside down, sideways, and some were little more than piles of twisted metal.
Robin stood up and helped Molly to her feet. They climbed out of a window and hurried away from the twisted wreck. Then, they heard explosions and saw bright lights in the sky all around them. The explosions were not a result of the train crash, but were fireworks in celebration of England’s Bonfire Night, sometimes referred to as Guy Fawkes Night. Bonfire Night in England is a celebration of the failure of the gunpowder plot to blow up King James I and the British Parliament. What a contrast it must have been to see celebratory fireworks in the sky above such a horrific scene.
Robin made sure Molly was safe and returned to the crumpled train cars to help other people escape. He helped several people to safety, all the while making sure Molly was okay. Ambulances and surgeons from the nearby hospital rushed to the scene. Surgeons performed at least two major operations at the site before their patients were rushed to the hospital. In total, the crash resulted in 49 fatalities and 78 people were injured.
Robin later compared the sensation he felt to “falling over Niagara Falls in a barrel, tumbling over and over.” He said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been so physically scared in all my life. I mean, once you’ve got in a train you imagine you are perfectly safe.” It took Robin and Molly several days to remove all of the shards of glass from their hair. An investigation revealed that the train derailment was caused by a broken rail joint. Following the Hither Green rail crash, many of the jointed tracks were replaced with continuous welded rails. Even with the improvements to the line, Robin said, “I doubt if I will ever be able to travel over that stretch of rail again.”
Following the crash, Robin returned to work with his two brothers. The musical trio had originally performed in bands called The Rattlesnakes and Wee Johnny Hayes and the Blue Cats with little success. 1967, the same year as the train crash, was a life-changing year for Robin and his brothers. In that year alone, they released five songs which became worldwide hits. Their success continued as they recorded more top ten hits in each of the following four decades. Robin, Maurice and Barry Gibb were… the Bee Gees.
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