It was early Saturday morning at Larbert station and the southbound platform was crowded with almost 500 soldiers waiting to board trains that would begin their long-awaited journey to the front.
The sense of occasion on that day in 1915 was heightened by the presence of Camelon Pipe Band, who had assembled to give the officers and men of 1/7th (Leith) Battalion, the Royal Scots, a suitable send off.
Now, a century later, the same band will lead the tributes at Larbert to what remains the worst rail disaster in British history.
The troops were bound for Gallipoli, where British Empire forces were fighting in what is now modern day Turkey.
The sense of excitement at the station was palpable. After being encamped for several weeks at the nearby Tryst in Stenhousemuir, close to where Ochilview Park now stands, they were on the brink of serving their country at a time when patriotic fervour was all-consuming following the outbreak of war in August 1914.
But 214 of the soldiers would be killed before crossing the border to England without ever facing the enemy or hearing a shot fired in anger.
At 6.50 a.m. on May 22, 1915, one of the troop trains travelling from Larbert collided with a local passenger service that had been shunted on to the main line at Quintinshill junction, north of Gretna.
An express train to Glasgow crashed into the wreckage a minute later.
The gas lights fitted on the trains created a devastating fire storm.
At least 226 people were killed in the carnage, although the exact figure is unknown due to severity of the blaze and the loss of all regimental records in the crash.
The accident was later found to have been caused by reckless working practices on the part of two local signalmen, who were later jailed for culpable homicide.
Tomorrow night, the 100th anniversary of the disaster will be commemorated at the railway station where most of the victims began their fateful journey.
A procession of military representatives, including a colour party from the Royal Scots, local school pupils and other dignitaries including Provost Pat Reid and the Lord Lieutenant of Stirling and Falkirk, will depart from Larbert Old Parish Church at 6.40 p.m. and assemble at Larbert station car park for 7 p.m., where a public remembrance service will take place.
Leading the procession will be Camelon Pipe Band, providing a direct link to the pipers who played at Larbert station on the morning of May 22 a century ago.
Thanks to the help of Baillie Billy Buchanan, who has led the organisation of tonight’s service at Larbert, and staff at Falkirk Archives, The Falkirk Herald can today reveal the story of how the Camelon band was so moved by the tragedy that it joined the Royal Scots en masse to replace pipers killed at Quintinshill.
The story of how the group signed up to replace the battalion’s lost band has been kept alive by descendents of those involved but has never been fully detailed - until now.
It centres around the McLachlan family from Union Road, Camelon. Three brothers - Charles, Alexander and Dougall - were all taught to play the pipes by their father, Peter, and would serve in the Great War.
Dougall was a member of Carron and District Pipe band before he founded the Camelon band in 1913. When the group enlisted in the Royal Scots, Dougall became the youngest pipe major in the British Army.
It is highly likely he was among the pipers who was playing at Larbert station on that morning in 1915.
While his personal motivations are not known for signing up, confirmation of the Cameon band joining the Royal Scots was recently unearthed by a family member looking into the story.
A battalion diary published in 1920 by Lieutenant Colonel Peebles of the Royal Scots, and distributed among the victim’s families, contains the following entry from November 1918, 18 months after the tragedy.
“While the Battalion was in camp at Ganadil (some miles east of the Suez Canal) the pipe band, which had been attached to the reserve unit at home, arrived on the scene. It was originally the Camelon and District Pipe Band, and enlisted in 1915 with a view to filling up the gap created by the loss of the Battalion Pipers in the Gretna Railway disaster.”
Although largely recruited from Edinburgh, the 1/7th Battalion had been warmly welcomed by communities in the Falkirk district, which explains why the Camelon band was present at Larbert to see them depart.
Baillie Buchanan said: “I’m pleased that this story is now getting the recognition it deserves.
“I first read about Quintinshill 18 years ago, but it is clear that the general situation locally is that few people know anything about the tragedy.
“The centenary will hopefully raise awareness of this important event.”