How the Hither Green train crash inspired survivor Robin Gibb's final work

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Hither Green train crash: How 1967 tragedy inspired survivor Robin Gibb's work
Hither Green train crash: How 1967 tragedy inspired survivor Robin Gibb's work

This article is part of Yahoo's 'On This Day' series

On this day in 1967, a 17-year-old Robin Gibb survived a tragic train accident that left 49 people dead. The Bee Gees singer's brush with death would stay with him for the rest of his life and be a motivating factor behind one of his final passion projects. 

On Nov. 5, 1967, Gibb and his then fiancée and eventual first wife, Molly Hullis, were travelling from Hastings to London by train. 

Gibb's recent success of off the band's recent hit, "Massachusetts", afforded the teenager the opportunity to book a first class compartment, something he believed "saved" him and Huillis from the unthinkable. 

During the 114 km journey, the train ran into broken track, causing 11 of its 12 carriages derail while travelling approximately 112 km/h between the Hither Green and Grove Park train stations. 

The crash killed 49 people and injured 78. In a strange coincidence, the accident occurred occurred only a mile from Lewisham, where another train crashed ten years earlier and killed 90 people.

The Hither Green crash killed 49 people and left 78 injured. (Image via Getty Images)
The Hither Green crash killed 49 people and left 78 injured. (Image via Getty Images)
The Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb in New York, 1967. (Image via Getty Images)
The Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb in New York, 1967. (Image via Getty Images)

Before his death in 2012 due to kidney failure, the then 62-year-old penned an article for the Daily Mail, announcing the release of "Titanic Requiem." The orchestral work, composed by Gibb and his son, Robin-John Gibb, was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's sinking. 

In the article, Gibb explained that his near-death experience at Hither Green contributed to his fascination and "obsession" with the Titanic. 

"I know what it is to live through a mass disaster," Gibb said of his interest in the sinking of the Titanic which left 1,500 dead. 

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Gibb recalled the horrific train crash in vivid detail, and the sights and sounds which traumatized the singer. 

"Our carriage tilted to one side and then broken glass flew all over us like Niagara Falls. I had long hair, and the glass got tangled in it. It took me days afterwards to remove the shards," he wrote. Then a piece of steel railway line shot through a window and passed my face. If I had been standing an inch forward, I would have been decapitated."

Gibbs's compartment was separated from the others and said were it not for his first class compartment, he might have been in one of the carriages that were "upside down."

"Molly and I were covered in oil but otherwise unhurt," Gibb remembered. "All around us people were screaming and moaning. We managed to climb out of a window and I helped other people out of their compartments. I did the best I could."

Robin Gibb composed
Robin Gibb composed "Titanic Requiem" before his death in 2012. (Image via Getty Images)

Gibb said he experienced a "delayed" reaction, but couldn't bring himself to ever write about his experience at Hither Green. 

Although he would never write works inspired by the accident, he believed it allowed him to approach composing his requiem from a more personal space. 

"I don’t wish to go around saying that I understand the Titanic tragedy because I lived through Hither Green, but I do think it is easier for me to walk in the shoes of the people who were on the Titanic," he said. "I’ve experienced some of what they experienced and there is some level of empathy. I have seen the terrible fragility of human life."

Gibb's requiem, which included 15 movements, debuted in April 2012, one month before the Grammy award-winning singer's death. 

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