It is remembered as Britain’s worst rail tragedy and generated a fire so intense some victims were reportedly shot to spare them the agony of burning to death.

The disaster unfolded in the morning of May 22, 1915, when a troop train carrying half (498 all ranks) of the 7th (Leith) Battalion, The Royal Scots (The Lothian Regiment) (7RS), collided with a stationary passenger service outside the Quintinshill signal box near Gretna Green.

The passenger train had been ‘parked’, facing north, on the south-bound main line at Quintinshill to allow a following express to overtake it. The troop train overturned, mostly onto the neighbouring north-bound mainline track.

Just over a minute later, a Glasgow-bound express smashed into the wreckage, sparking an inferno that quickly consumed the gas-lit troop train.

Three officers, 31 NCOs and 182 soldiers of 7th Battalion The Royal Scots, the driver and fireman on the troop-train, and 10 others, mostly from the express train, died and many more were injured in what was the worst rail disaster in the country’s history.

READ MORE: Scottish soldiers 'shot in mercy killings' after Britain's worst rail disaster

The tragedy was a devastating blow to the Battalion and to the whole population of Leith – it was said that there was not a family in the town untouched by the tragedy, probably made worse by the fact that, out of the 216 who died in the disaster, or soon afterwards from their injuries, only 83 were ever identified. The remaining 133 bodies could not be identified or were, literally, cremated within the firestorm of the wreckage. The day after the rail crash, 107 coffins were taken back to Edinburgh and were placed in the Battalion’s Drill Hall in Dalmeny Street, off Leith Walk.

On the afternoon of Monday, May 24, 101 of these were taken in procession for burial in a mass grave that had been dug in Rosebank Cemetery, Pilrig Street, about a mile from the Drill Hall. "The route was lined by 3,150 soldiers, thousands of citizens stood shoulder to shoulder on the pavement; shops were closed, blinds drawn and the traffic stopped",’ said a local report at the time.

On Saturday, May 25, The Royal Scots Regimental Association will hold its annual Memorial Service at Rosebank Cemetery in Edinburgh to remember all those who lost their lives in the tragedy. 

The service will be conducted by Rev Stephen Blakey, formerly padre of 1st Battalion, The Royal Scots, at the Gretna Memorial which stands in the western corner of the cemetery.

The memorial was paid for by public subscription and was unveiled on 12 May 1916 by the Earl of Rosebery, Honorary Colonel of the Battalion, alongside the communal grave in Rosebank Cemetery.

The Herald: An image of images of the funeral procession in Leith on May 24, 1915.An image of images of the funeral procession in Leith on May 24, 1915. (Image: The Royal Scots Regimental Museum)

It takes the form of a Celtic cross, standing 15ft 6ins, made from Peterhead granite.  There is an inscription and an explanatory plaque to the front and shields to each side, one bearing the Regimental Badge and the other Leith Burgh’s Coat-of-Arms. To the rear, against the Cemetery wall, are two tablets, each with five bronze plaques which bear the names of 216 men who died in, or immediately after the disaster, arranged by rank, and in alphabetical order.

The Memorial and the grave area are now maintained by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission. 

Every year, on the Saturday closest to May 22, the Regimental Association, supported by local organisations, holds a Memorial Service and wreath laying at the Memorial.

Brigadier George Lowder, President of The Royal Scots Regimental Association, said: “Amidst all the sacrifices and loss of The First World War, the tragic loss of 216 Members of 7 RS in the Quintinshill Rail Disaster in the early morning of 22 May 2015 en route to embarking for Gallipoli was a huge blow to The Regiment, to Leith, and to Edinburgh. 

“Leith marked their passing in a way that highlighted the close links between the Battalion and the Community. It was believed that every family in Leith was touched by the disaster and the Community continued to suffer as others injured in the crash subsequently died of their injuries.

"Our commemoration remembers not only those of 7RS who lost their lives but also the close tie between The Regiment and Leith that still endures today."