Tragedy which became one man’s passion

Ian Nimmo White with his poem on the memorial
Ian Nimmo White with his poem on the memorial

The Leslie links that inspired Ian Nimmo White to help create Tay Bridge memorial

For as a seven year-old youngster living in Paisley, Ian Nimmo-White, now a retired youth and community officer, first learned of the horrors of that fateful night 134 years ago.

His mother told him the sad story of the Tay Bridge Disaster, when, on a stormy night, the bridge collapsed, forcing the train to plunge into the icy waters.

Fifty-nine passengers and crew perished that night, and it’s a tragedy which has gripped Ian for 60 years and which has now brought him full circle.

“It’s a story that just registered with me immediately and took hold of me the moment my mother told it,” remembers Ian.

“I’ve read many accounts of the tragedy in the years since, but it wasn’t until I was driving over the Tay Bridge as it is today on the way to Montrose with my family that I realised the supports from that original bridge were still clearly visible

“That shocked me, and I wanted to know more.

But nothing could prepare Ian for the shock when he learned that the driver of the train – David Mitchell – was a Leslie man who is buried in the local cemetery, the very town he had lived himself for many years.

“I was gobsmacked,’’ he said. ‘‘I wanted to know everything about him, where he was buried and what had become of him,” explained Ian.

With the help of local historian Campbell Morris, Ian located the unmarked grave, a success that gave him hope that one day the rest of the victims might also be rightfully remembered.

Ian’s further involvement in the move for a lasting memorial for the victims came when the charitable trust set up to raise funds to make it happen confirmed they wanted to use a poem he had written about the disaster.

“I never thought the poem would be chosen, but when it was, I agreed to join the seven other trustees, but realised that I needed to become an authority on all aspects relating to the disaster.

‘‘For the last four years, it really has been an all-consuming passion,” said Ian.

Like many similar trusts, they were told that, for the project to achieve its goal, then it would have to raise the necessary money themselves.

Ian put his experience of securing charitable funding to good use, but it was the confirmation of another trustee that gave the trust the gravitas it needed to succeed.

“I think we would all agree that the turning point came when Professor David Swinfen joined the trustees, as a leading historian and vice principal of Dundee University, it gave the group that added weight and credibility we needed,” said Ian.

And so, on December 28, 2013, exactly 134 years to the day after the tragedy, the dedication of those trustees, their supporters and the generosity of the general public made the unveiling of memorials at Wormit and Dundee a reality.

“I know our families are proud of what we have done to remember those who perished, but I think pride is going too far,” reflected Ian.

“Satisfaction is probably the best way to describe how I’m feeling right now.”