On the evening of the 4th December, 1951, 52 Royal Marine Volunteer Cadets, aged between 9 and 13, were marching along Dock Road, Gillingham, with Lieutenant Clarence Murrayfield Carter, Adjutant of the Royal Marine Volunteer Cadet Corps. The cadets had left Melville Royal Marine Barracks and were on their way to the Royal Naval Barracks to watch a boxing tournament. They were marching in a column in the road, close to the kerb, heading towards the Naval Barracks. They had no rear light with them to warn traffic, and that particular part of the road they were marching along was badly lit. Suddenly, a double-decker bus without headlights on, belonging to the Chatham & District Traction Company, approached them from behind. The bus driver failed to see the cadets and drove straight into them. 17 cadets died tragically at the scene and 7 others died later in hospital, 18 more were also injured.
Memorial Plaque at the scene of the disaster in Dock Road, Gillingham.
The service for the funeral of twenty of the boys was held at Rochester Cathedral on 12th December, 1951, and was conducted by the Bishop of Rochester. Thousands of local people stood outside the cathedral and lined the route of the funeral procession to Gillingham Cemetery, in Woodlands Road. Three of the cadets, who were Roman Catholic, were buried in the Roman Catholic part of the Naval section of the cemetery, on the 10th December, and a fourth was buried privately at Chatham Cemetery on December 11th. An inquest was held on the 14th December, 1951, at the Royal Naval Hospital, Gillingham, where many of the injured were being treated. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death. At the time of the incident it was the highest loss of life in any road accident in British history.