The site of the sinking is now an official War Grave protected by The Protection of Military Remains Act of 1986. Every craft and every aircraft was drafted in to try and complete this operation. I took the megaphone, hearing my voice booming out strangely over the dying ship ‘Clear away the boats now… Your attention please… Clear away the boats now.’ The Lancastria quaked under my feet, a last gesture of farewell.” Her crew had just taken their wages and were signing off articles and on their way home when they were called back to their ship. Can you imagine a hatch cover the size of the average sitting room exploding upwards like that and me sitting there without a scratch. The loss of the Lancastria was Britain’s worst maritime disaster. Woke up at 1:30 pm. Their march through France was relentless, and the British troops that were left in France were now making their way to any ports that were still open, right around the coast. I was by now also full of fuel oil, continuously sick and deadly cold. Since I actually announced that I was doing this talk, I have received a number of telephone calls and a number of emails from relatives of those who…survived, and [those who] died on the Lancastria, and I’ve been absolutely overwhelmed by their stories and their passion for taking this out into the wider world again. I joined them as more people tried to get aboard. //-->, Bolton Lancastria victim search goes on 66 years later, Lancastria international petition launched. Thank you. History may have chosen to forget the Lancastria but the survivors and their relatives never forgot each other, and I’ve been informed, this morning [17 June 2010], that at 11 o’clock, a wreath was actually taken out and laid over the wreck of the Lancastria by the Association. It was not a pretty sight. A couple of local observations – Michel Lugez: ‘The bodies did not reach the shore immediately after the ship sank, but by July the bodies came ashore in large numbers. It was clear that his experience that day had a lasting effect on him , especially since his best mate died alongside him on the destroyer as a result of his exertions swimming in the filthy water. referenced. On your right hand, follow the main road to the cross roads, go straight on through the residential area, you will come to a car park, straight through the car park area there 2 cafe’s and some large trees to the left. Then, when she lurched and rolled heavily onto the other side, I decided to jump overboard. Subscribe now for regular news, updates and priority booking for events.Sign up, All content is available under the Open She was built by William Beardmore, for the Anchor Line subsidiary of Cunard. Back in the water again till a voice shouted “There’s a boat behind!”, this time I was hauled aboard. Captain Sharp himself reports that he spent between three and four hours in the water before being picked up by one of the Lancastria’s lifeboats. After the war the Lancastria Survivors Association was founded by Major Peter Petit, but this lapsed on his death in 1969. The speed and ferocity of the German advance pushed the major part of the British expeditionary force and their French allies towards Dunkirk. Some of those lost on that day, were: Lance Corporal Fred Fryer, aged 19, of 29 Railway Survey Company, Royal Engineers; Sergeant Leslie George Baker, aged 19, of 98 Squadron RAF; and Deck Boy John Frederick Darley, aged 17, Merchant Navy. I regret to say that on two occasions when groups tried to grab me I dived under to avoid their clutches. I decided then to throw my lifebelt into the sea and jumped in after it.” The atmosphere on board was almost like a cruise to begin with. The decision was taken to hold her where she was, and wait for the other ships to complete boarding and to all leave together with the escorts. It was out duty to look after them, as I was a butcher boy in Civvies Street. Initially the lounge steward was counting those that came on board with a little hand counter, but was told to go back to his lounge that he looked after because it had been turned into a senior rank’s mess and drinks were being called for. Two soldiers near me were clinging together, and when I saw a boat approaching I shouted the news to them, and I was eventually dragged into the boat, but the two soldiers were by then dead.’, The boat became so full of survivors that she was in danger of sinking, but when it was found that one or two were already dead, we passed them back into the sea, and then we were sighted by the Destroyer HMS Havelock, who got us all safely aboard, and brought us back to Plymouth.’. The media blackout was decreed for 100 years, until 2040, though much has become known about the incident via survivors, next-of-kin and historical researchers such as the Lancastria … At 13:48, the Oronsay received a direct hit on her bridge. She was launched on the Clyde in 1922, originally as the Tyrrhenia. There have been estimates that as many as 6,500 people could have been on board, with some estimates ranging even as high as 9,000. The operation was named Dynamo and its aim was to evacuate up to 45,000 men from Dunkirk. …Once on board Lancastria, senior ranks and officers of the initial parties to go on board were actually allocated cabins while more junior ranks were allocated bunks in third class accommodation or within the holds on E and F decks, which are the two at the very bottom of the ship. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not The lifebelts had risen up as they entered the water and broken their necks. As the ship keeled over I was swept towards the propeller of the ship which by now was out of the water, we were all swimming in oil and the bullets were still being fired as they tried to set the sea alight. public. In his report, Captain Sharp concludes that each of the bombs which struck the ship passed through the upper deck and hatches, bursting inside the ship and blowing holes in her sides. Select an option to receive our free podcast series, using either RSS or iTunes. At the time this operation was going on, Lancastria was actually being readied to take part in Operation Alabaster, and that was the operation, basically, to man and defend certain Icelandic bases, and her role was to carry 2,000 troops up to Iceland, so she was nowhere near France at the time. We didn’t know later that the name of the liner was the Lancastria, it wasn’t a war ship but a liner, but we didn’t care, as we were so glad to be going home. The Association lasted until Major Petit’s death in 1969. She’d spent hours on the Clyde where she was supposed to be refitted, and then been moved to Liverpool for a routine re-fit and to have 1,407 tons of surplus fuel oil removed from her tanks. When I arrived in France, my companions and I were sent to a huge chateau where a number of high ranking officers were staying. What I will attempt to do is explain why so many people came to be on board, why we simply don’t know who exactly was on board, why the loss of life was so high, and we’ll also look at why the Lancastria seems to have been so long forgotten. Not even my girlfriend, who later became my wife, knew what had happened to me or where I was as it was decided to keep the tragedy under wraps as it was only two weeks after Dunkirk. Ship hit by bombs at 3:50, had sunk completely by 4:15. google_ad_client = "ca-pub-6097068139040027"; See our help guide for more information on podcast subscription. After entering the water a seemingly crazed man tried to remove my lifejacket, but I managed to fight him off. There was a huge hole in the deck. This was the only one of his wartime escapades that I ever heard my grandfather talk about , he was involved at Dunkirk, the North Africa Campaign and Sicily landings but never spoke about any of these. In 1946, Major Cyril V.Petit invited all survivors of the Lancastria to attend a reunion. When they got to Cherbourg, Churchill expected them to join other units and form a second BEF [British Expeditionary Force]. So despite the ship being full to capacity by midday on the 17 June, she didn’t leave St Nazaire. The sinking of the Lancastria during WWII remains Britain's worst maritime disaster. We have been led to believe he was onboard when the ship was sunk. kind regards Bev. He was born in 1918, survived 1918/19 Global Pandemic. Eyewitness accounts vary as to how long she took to sink, but Captain Fuller, master of the John Holt, timed her demise at just 24 minutes. The Lancastria was just a bad news story in a sea of bad news stories. Your email address will not be published. We were tipped back into the oily sea. The ship itself was being machine gunned. I’m sorry.” – Ken Belsham, RAPC, “It was a massive explosion which hit the Lancastria. Major Plunkett, of the matter of fact war diary, of the Royal Veterinary Corps, had assumed the role of a medical officer on board a rescue trawler, and reported the 150 men were on board. Consequently a decision was taken on the 25 May to evacuate British and French troops from that port. Ladies and gentlemen, the Lancastria is so recent an event that any one of those men could have been sitting with us here today. We have those files now, and they’re in Series WO 361. However, we know that the story in France was far from over. I was elected to do the cooking, we also did general duties and square bashing to keep fit. Lancastria left Liverpool at five o’clock on the 14 June, for Plymouth, to await her orders. The planes were still hovering about machine-gunning the decks, killing hundreds of struggling soldiers. We got rafts over the side and lowered the lifeboats. I was in the water for around 2 hours before being picked up.
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