Two decades after the Clapham rail disaster, pupils at Emanuel School joined survivors in a memorial service on Friday.

Many of the 130 injured were rescued from the wreckage by teachers and pupils at the time and taken up to the school for treatment.

During the service pupils sang remembrance songs and visitors laid flowers on a stone memorial near the tracks.

Mark Hanley-Browne, headteacher, said: “The pupils and staff of the school were heavily involved in the rescue effort twenty years ago. It is important that we take this opportunity to look back and reflect – and also to gain the strength to look forward.”

The crash, on December 12, 1988, happened at 8.15 in the morning just outside Clapham Junction leaving 35 dead. A train from Bournemouth ran into the back of a train from Basingstoke and then an empty train from London ploughed into the wreckage.

Simon Gregory, now head of lower school, was on his way to work when he saw streams of people walking along the tracks.

He said: “We spent most of the morning looking after the injured, who were dazed and confused. Our minibuses were used as well as the ambulances to ferry people to hospital.

“Lots of people where trying to ring in. My parents rang in too. No-one knew which train it was.”

Meanwhile staff and pupils ran down the embankment and risked their own lives to help the injured.

One boy, Terry Stoppani, was celebrating his 12th birthday and was small enough to crawl into the wreckage and pull people out.

Others who helped included Peter Pantechi, 14, prefect Simon Murie and head boy Mark Ellis, both 18.

Mr Gregory added: “They showed incredible heroism. They didn’t think about it, they just got on with it.

“It’s part of the school’s history, and while it’s not something we’d like repeated, we are proud of the way the children behaved.”

Most of the pupils were sent home, but a sombre carol service went ahead as planned in the evening.

An inquiry showed the crash resulted from signalling failures, leading to a major overhaul in safety procedures at British Rail.