The man who sensed death in the fog



For more than 10 years, Kenneth Forrester had commuted into London from the Kent suburbs to his job as a cashier in a City of London bank.

The hour-long journey each way in the jam-packed suburban trains had become part of his life. He rarely noticed the discomfort of standing squashed in the corner of a carriage with barely enough room to wield his pen on The Times crossword. He knew by heart the sequence of stations, the bumps and curves of the track and he had learned to live with the cold of the carriages in winter and the stifling heat in summer.

Long after he had retired and was spending his days in his garden or visiting National Trust properties with his wife, Kenneth Forrester could not forget the thousands of miles spent travelling on the suburban trains ... and the day when a strange premonition almost certainly saved his life.

"November 1957 was a particularly foggy month," he would recall in an interview with a local newspaper. "The trains had been late every morning and evening and everyone started to get bad-tempered.

"There were long waits at stations and signals and one morning it took me over two hours to get to work. And when December started it didn't look as though things were going to get any better.

"It was a time when you wondered why on earth you depended on that wretched railway line — any upset in the weather seemed to throw it into chaos." Kenneth Forrester's routine hardly varied over the years. After work he would catch a bus to Charing Cross station to board his train.

He would buy a newspaper and walk up the train looking for a no-smoking compartment with a free seat next to a window and near a door. Occasionally, as he was queuing to pass through the ticket barrier he would meet a couple of men he knew — Barry Argent, a barrister and Norman Atkinson, manager of an export business. When this happened they would look for a carriage with three vacant seats and sit together.

"I remember that on this particular night I arrived at the station to find a great crowd at the barrier. There had been long delays because of the fog and many trains had been cancelled.
 
"I tried to find a phone box to call my wife Anne and warn her that I would probably be very late but there were long queues for these also so I decided to ring from the station when I got to the other end. I walked along to barrier and there I met Norman and Barry.

We had a chat about how impossible the train system was in the winter and stood waiting for our service to come in. Eventually it arrived — about 50 minutes late and we found seats in a non-smoker." The travellers knew the route in their sleep ... Charing Cross, Waterloo, London Bridge, New Cross, St John's, Lewisham, Blackheath... and into the commuter belt of Kent.

Yet to Kenneth Forrester this night was different. "I have never been particularly imaginative and certainly not a superstitious man. But on this occasion I had what I can only describe as a strong sense that something dreadful was about to happen. By the time we had reached Waterloo this had become so strong that I felt I had no option but to get off the train. But I didn't. I suppose I didn't want to make a fool of myself. As we approached London Bridge station I felt myself going faint and Barry said: 'Are you Ok? You've gone very pale.' I muttered something about having a headache and tried to concentrate on my paper."  On the 10 minute run from London Bridge to New Cross Kenneth Forrester felt he couldn't resist his instincts any longer. "I blurted out: 'I can't tell you why, but I'm absolutely certain something terrible is going to happen to this train and I'm getting out at New Cross to wait for the next.'

"People in the carriage were looking at me and obviously thought I was drunk or had gone mad or something. As the train slowed down for New Cross I stood up and said: 'Is anyone coming with me?'

"Barry said: 'It could be hours before the next one on a night like this. I think I'll take a chance' but Norman suddenly got up and said: 'I must be crackers but I think I'll come with you. Although how I'll explain being late to the wife I don't know...'

"We got our things together and left the carriage. The fog was thick and swirling on the platform and the carriage looked warm and inviting. Then the train set off and Barry gave us a wave. We never saw him again." As the two men sat in the gloom of the deserted platform the train they had left was 10 minutes away from disaster.  Two stations along the line it smashed into a train waiting at signals and the disaster which became known as the Lewisham train crash had happened. Ninety people were fatally injured that night amid the twisted wreckage of coaches, bent rails and tangled girders of a railway bridge. Barry Argent was among them.

Ever afterwards Kenneth Forrester asked himself: "What more could I have done? And the answer is nothing. No one apart from Norman, believed me because at that time there was nothing to believe."

For the rest of his life, Kenneth Forrester lived a quiet life in the suburbs, tending his garden and enjoying a quiet pint at weekends. And on summer evenings when he was out in his garden he could look down the slope of a hill and watch the London-bound suburban trains go by... and remember. 

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