7 Minutes to 3:
The Tragic Deaths of Roy Ayling and Eugenie Armstrong.
June 19th, 1919 was just another ordinary day for engine driver and fireman, John James O’Shea and Harold Sutherland. They went to work at the Islington Train Yards. They fired up Engine 88 to pull Goods Train 72 and set off on route from Mile End out to Hamley Bridge, north of Gawler.
The train passed through Gawler and out onto the Roseworthy line to Hamley Bridge, then back through Roseworthy heading toward Gawler.
As the train approached the crossing on what is now Redbanks Road between Roseworthy and Gawler, the engine driver sounded his whistle. As the whistle was sounded, he noticed a motorcycle with sidecar speeding along the road. The train whistle was sounded again as a warning. The motorcycle appeared to slow down, then suddenly as if racing the train to the crossing, sped up.
O’Shea sounded the train’s whistle again and Sutherland applied the tender brake.
Due to the incline of the rail line, the airbrakes and tender brakes had already been partially applied, so when the train approached the crossing it was already decelerating.
The train entered the crossing at 20 miles per hour pulling a 300-ton load. It struck the centre of the motorcycle, dragging it under the cowcatcher and under the train.
Fireman, Harold Sutherland stated of the incident; “I saw the motorcycle, about a chain away, on the driver’s side of the engine. Saw nothing further until the bodies flew out from the under wheels of the engine onto the right side of the line.”
There were many witnesses to the accident. Farmers on properties around the train line had been out in the fields working had seen the whole event as it occurred. Farmer Hugo Twartz, Martin Twartz, Theodore Bartsch, all gave testimony that confirmed the train driver and train fireman’s testimony.
Roy Ayling was a quiet young man described as quiet and thoughtful, with a gift for motor mechanics. The 20-year-old was well known and liked around Willaston. He was a successful poultry breeder who made his own incubators and breeders. He had been riding a motorcycle for over a year, and many local people knew the sound of his bike as it came and went from Willaston.
Eugenie Armstrong was a student at the Gawler Technical School. At only 18 and half she had made her mark assisting at various businesses in Gawler’s main street. She was a valued member of the Gawler’s Congregational Church. Her father, Mr A.P, Armstrong was a well-known Labor Party Member in South Australia. Miss Armstrong was described by friends as; “A sterling and reliable companion, who was very popular among her peers.”
On June 19th, Roy picked up Eugenie in his sidecar. He had only had the bike for two months and enjoyed showing it off. They headed out toward Roseworthy to catch a late afternoon football match between the Willaston Football Club and the Roseworthy College students’ team.
It’s not known exactly what happened on that fateful day. The par sped along Redbank’s road toward the crossing, the train blew its whistle, and Roy slowed down but didn’t stop. He sped up, the train blew a second, longer warning whistle, but Roy didn’t stop, he pushed ahead to the crossing, where the bike was hit, and two young adults were flung from the bike under the train.
Was Roy overconfident his new bike could beat the train? Was he showing off to Eugenie, or perhaps trying to scare her? Or was he distracted by the young woman in the sidecar, not noticing the noise of the trains whistle over the blare of his bike?
We will never truly know the exact circumstances of the accident that claimed their lives…
The police attended the scene after the accident. The young adults’ bodies were badly mutilated, so much so that they were buried before their funerals were held.
At the scene, Miss Armstrong’s watch was picked up by Sergeant Adamson. It read 7 minutes to 3, about the time of the accident.
Roy and Eugenie are buried at the historic Willaston Cemetery near Gawler.
Researched and written by Allen Tiller © 2019.
‘AWFUL RAILWAY ACCIDENT.’, Bunyip, (27 June 1919), p. 3.
‘THE INQUEST.’, Bunyip, (27 June 1919), p. 3.
‘DETAILS OF THE TRAGEDY.’, Chronicle, (28 June 1919), p. 13.
‘RUN DOWN BY A TRAIN.’, Chronicle, (28 June 1919), p. 13.