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Monday, 8 July 2013

Derailed at Mantes

Saturday, July 8th., Villa des Nefliers, Fontainebleau.

I began to write my little book on Xmas on Wednesday last. On Thursday I went to see the Wellses at Pont de l'Arche. I came back yesterday and found myself in a railway accident at Mantes, six wounded.

There had already been a breakdown in a tunnel. Officials said that a rotule of an attache had got broken. It was repaired and we jolted onwards at, I should say, about 30 or 35 kilometres an hour. Then, just after we passed Mantes station, there was a really terrific jolting. I knew after 4 or 5 jolts that one coach at any rate had let the metals.

I was in a sort of large Pullmanesque compartment at the back of a first-class coach, two or three coaches from the engine. The windows broke. The corridor door sailed into the compartment. My stick flew out of the rack. The table smashed itself. I clung hard to the arms of my seat, and fell against an armchair in front of me. There was a noise of splintering, and there were various other noises. An old woman lay on the floor crying. I wondered: "Shall I remain unharmed until the thing stops?" Immense tension of waiting for the final stoppage. Equilibrium at last and I was unhurt.

I couldn't get out at first. Then someone opened the door. I soothed the old woman. I took my eyeglasses off and put them in their case. I found my hat (under some debris) and my stick. My bag had remained in the rack. I left the train with my belongings but I had forgotten all about the book I was reading, "L'Eve Future". This book was all that I lost. Two wounded women were ahead lying out on the grass at the side of the track.

Up above, from street bordering the cutting, crowds of people were gazing curiously, as at a show. One woman asked if she could do anything, and someone said: "A doctor". I walked round to the other side of the train and a minor official asked me and others to go back. "Ce n'est pas pour vous commander, mais ..." We obeyed. Two coaches lay on their sides. One of them was unwheeled, and partly sticking in the ground. No sound came from an overturned 2nd class coach though there were people in it.

Presently some men began lifting helpless passengers onto cushions which had been laid on the ground. I had no desire of any sort to help. I argued incompassionately that it was the incompetent railway company's affair. I held my bag and stick and I looked around. I didn't want to see any more wounded nor to be any more impressione than I could help. My recollection of appearances quickly became vague. I remember the face of one wounded woman was all over coal dust. We had shaved a short goods train standing on the next line, and the tender of the train was against our coach. A young American said that it was sticking into our coach, but I don't think it was. He said that the front part of our coach was entirely telescoped, but it wasn't entirely telescoped. It was, however, all smashed up. My chief impression is of a total wreck brought about in a few seconds.

I walked off up line towards station and met various groups of employees running towards train. At last two came with a stretcher or ambulance. I passed out of the station into the place, and a collector feebly asked me for my ticket, which I didn't give. I went straight to a garage and demanded an auto for Paris. But all autos had been taken off to the scene of the accident. Having been promised one in due course, I waited some time and then had a wash and took tea. I couldn't help eating and drinking quickly. Then I was told that two Americans wanted an auto. I said that they might share the one promised to me. Agreed. At last my auto came. The price was 100 francs. A Frenchman came up who wanted to get to Paris quickly (he had not been in the accident), and I gave him a place for 20 francs making a mistake in thus dividing 100 by 4. This detail shows I really was upset under my superficial calmness. We went off at 5.30.

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