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In The Last Battle, all of the Friends of Narnia (except Susan - the people from our world who had been to Narnia over the course of the seven books) die in a horrific train accident and end up going to the Narnian heaven which connects to our world's heaven. The train crash is described as resulting from an incoming train taking a bend too fast, but as far as I remember, it claims the lives of people in the incoming train, people in a stationary train, and even people standing on the platform.

Today, thanks to Wikipedia's "On this day", I learned about the Harrow and Wealdstone disaster, a three-train crash which took place in 1952 and was severe enough to kill platform onlookers, with some train carriages mounting the platform and even penetrating an overhead footbridge. The timing seems to fit with the disaster in The Last Battle: a decade after the WW2 evacuations of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and a few years before the publication of The Last Battle.

Did the Friends of Narnia die in the Harrow and Wealdstone disaster? This is a question in two parts: (1) out of universe, was the train crash in The Last Battle inspired specifically by the real-life Harrow and Wealdstone one? (2) in universe, is it consistent with the events of the story for them to have actually been in Harrow and Wealdstone on 8 October 1952?

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    This answer on Scifi.SE suggests that there's a different train crash that is a better fit to the story than Harrow & Wealdstone. I've read other comments somewhere on SE confirming this, but am having trouble tracking them down.
    – Tom
    Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 22:16
  • It is interesting to see just how many rail accidents were occurring in Britain in the 1950s. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… . I think that this makes it less likely that Lewis had a specific accident in mind.
    – mikado
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 13:47

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Two train crashes are often cited as the inspiration for the crash described in The Last Battle. One, as mentioned in the question, is the Harrow and Wealdstone disaster of 1952, and the other is the Sutton Coldfield rail crash of 1955. The Last Battle was published in 1956, so either of these could have been an influence on it.

Let us see how the crash is described in The Last Battle:

"There's not much to tell," said Peter. "Edmund and I were standing on the platform and we saw your train coming in. I remember thinking it was taking the bend far too fast. And I remember thinking how funny it was that our people were probably in the same train though Lucy didn't know about it —“

”Your people, High King?" said Tirian.

"I mean my Father and Mother — Edmund's and Lucy's and mine."

"Why were they?" asked Jill. "You don't mean to say they know about Narnia?"

"Oh no, it had nothing to do with Narnia. They were on their way to Bristol. I'd only heard they were going that morning. But Edmund said they'd be bound to be going by that train." (Edmund was the sort of person who knows about railways)

So we know three things about the crash: it happened in the morning, the proximate cause was the train taking a bend too fast, and the train was bound for Bristol. This does not match up well with the Harrow and Wealdstone crash. This happened when an overnight train from Perth went through a red signal and collided with a local train waiting in the station, and a third train then collided with the wreckage. The only point in common with the Last Battle crash is that it happened in the morning.

The Sutton Coldfield crash seems more promising. The train derailed as it entered the station, because it took the curve at too high a speed, and was travelling to Bristol (from York). However, it happened at 4 o' clock in the afternoon, so again the fit is not perfect.

A manuscript by Lewis, the Outline of Narnian History, dates major events in the world of Narnia and England, and it gives the date of the train crash as 1949. This is actually a year in which no major train crashes occurred. So if you ask whether Lewis took some inspiration from these crashes, the answer is almost certainly yes. But if you are asking if the train crash is literally the Harrow and Wealdstone disaster, then the answer is no.

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