Double-Decker Horror- Example of Standard Operating Procedure laxity

On a cold and dark winter evening of 4th of December in 1951 particular incident that happened in Gillingham, Kent, UK would send out chills down your spine! On the account of having plans to witness a boxing tournament about 52-strong company of the Royal Marines Volunteer Cadet Corps set out marching from Gillingham’s Melville Barracks to the Royal Naval Barracks located in Chatham. For this contingent to be led to the tournament Lt. Clarence Carter was given the charge assisted by cadet of non-commissioned officers. These youth marchers formed a column of about 15 m in length and arranged themselves into 3 such contingents.

Outside the gates of Chatham Road Naval Dockyard in Dock Road, when the cadets had reached a dark section of the road where one of the street lights had failed a bus belonging to Chatham & District Traction Company approached these cadets from behind. Lt. Clarence Carter who had noticed this bus coming towards them immediately told the boys to get as close to the edge of the road as possible. The double-decker bus at that time was travelling at a 40 mph and it did not move aside to pass them but found it ploughing through the cadet marcher’s line before ultimately stopping. The driver on the wheel was John Samson a 57 year old who had about 40 years of experience.

So when the driver with so many years of experience was on the wheel why and how did things go awfully wrong? The answer once again lies with the absence of a sound standard operating procedure not in place at the first instance. SOP guidelines here should have clearly spelt out clearly to the driver that not only the sidelights but also the main head lamp should have been on when driving during the evenings at the time of winter along with a recommended speed to be driving. Also the local administration should have had SOP guidelines to have street lights checked on a daily basis and also a scheduled and preventive maintenance in place. As the colour of the uniforms worn by the cadet was in dark-blue colour the driver claimed that he did not realise the presence of the marchers. Samson also claimed that he had not driven the bus at 40 mph as mentioned by Lt. Clarence and was only driving at 20 mph. Lt. Clarence emerged unscathed though dazed. The resultant of this gory road accident resulted in about 24 young cadets lesser than 10 years lose their lives though the driver escaped with a fine of £20. The Chatham & District Traction Company paid out £10,000 in compensation to the parents of the dead boys which was shared among them and this led to British military marchers now showing red-light at night while marching leading to a new establishment of a safety measure like a standard operating procedure to follow while marching at night on public roads.