I’ve added the account of Laurence Wakefield, who was in the Royal Engineers like my father, and on board the Lancastria too, after his son in law David Joy read this account and sent me his father in law’s war memoirs. I’ve also added the Wikipedia entry for RMS Lancastria.

Robert E. Hill

We seemed to take a long time to reach Angers. Some officers and other ranks went off to reconnoitre sites for landing strips but I can’t recall much was accomplished. We eventually reached Nantes where we backed up against thousands of others, Air Force personnel as well as Army. After two or three nights bivouacking outside the town we destroyed the G.1098 stores sabotaged any unnecessary machinery and marched in convoy to the port of St. Nazaire. We arrived on the 17th June at ten o’clock, having marched seven miles many of us in new boots taken from the G.1098 before it went up in smoke. We were tired, grumbling yet knowing nothing of the heroics that had been happening at Dunkirk a month before. At eleven o’clock we went aboard the Cunard’s Lancastria, grousing and grumbling at being among the last to board. We were assigned places on “A” deck aft.

RMS Lancastria, sunk on 17th June 1940

RMS Lancastria, sunk on 17th June 1940

At four o’clock in the afternoon several Stukas flew over. One dropped his bombs and missed by fifty yards, we cheered, and the gunners began to bang away with their ineffective popguns. Another Stuka flew in from the sun on portside. It zoomed low over the ship. We ducked down automatically, a confused chatter of guns a great bang and a smell of cordite. We straightened up and began to yell, “GOT the BASTARD!!” But he had got us. Amidships. Straight down the main staircase. No chance at all for those down there. Within several minutes the Lancastria began to tilt to starboard. We were wearing life belts, or had lifebelts. I wore mine. Shouts of “OVER THE SIDE”!!! “EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF”!!! Large rafts were heaved over the side, I helped and waited until most had gone over, anyone in the water with one of them thrown on top would have no chance. A rope ladder was now over the side I got on that and went down as fast as I could boots and feet banging on my head, and one time trapping my hand. By this time the ship was at a terribly steep angle. It is said one sees ones life flash in front of one like a movie. Not so. I was too busy working out what to do and where to go.About two o’clock, very hungry we went below and had a jolly good lunch of bangers and mash and hot tea, all the better enjoying silver service by uniformed waiters. Up on top again out in the warm sun, I took off my boots, which were torturing my feet and popped on my ‘plimsolls’. I rested on my kit bag we had been allowed to bring with us. Teddy Perfect said, “Why the hell don’t we get cracking and weigh anchor we’re a sitting duck waiting here”. Several agreed but each seemed lost in his own thoughts to develop more conversation. Time dragged on. It had been obvious the last few days that we were escaping out of France. We had no news of any kind – just rumours. One of the French troops guarding St. Nazaire had spat at the feet of one of our officers when he wished them goodbye and good luck. With hind sight not a sensible thing to do.

By now the sea was full of swimming, paddling, struggling men. I pushed out for a life raft some yards away that was moving away from me faster than I could paddle. I was not a good swimmer. I had the support of the buoyant life jacket yet I did not seem to be able to reach the raft. The ship was towering above me. Spotting a raft surrounded with bobbing heads that seemed to be nearer I struck out for that and eventually grabbed a loop of rope. I was dragged along, next I was paddling with my right hand, then almost pushed down under the raft as it turned in the water. This went on for a very long time.

Temporarily safe I began to think of my family and friends. By now we were sufficiently away from the ship to take stock. The Lancastria had turned over completely with her bottom above the water. Men were scrambling about on her upturned hull. It was uncanny. Would she go down completely or was enough air trapped inside to keep her like that to save the men before they were sucked down. Oil was everywhere. To get far away from the ship to land was everyone’s goal. I was getting tired. A tiny rowing boat painted yellow slid alongside the raft taking people off. I would not let go until I was sure I was ready to get into the boat. In the end I was helped into it by someone grabbing the seat of my trousers as I grabbed the side and missed through sheer exhaustion.

War - the final moments of the Lancastria

War – the final moments of the Lancastria

The rowboat put us on to a French trawler; I stripped off my jacket to get dry. A frigate, HMS Havelock, hailed the trawler. As we scrambled up nets to get aboard I lost my jacket. A sailor had taken it from me indicating he would throw it up after me. He did, I missed catching it as the swell was so great the stern end of the trawler dipped down too much as he swung it up to the level of the Havelock deck. It missed by three feet and sank between the screws of both ships.

Gone forever were my papers except for a photograph that was in my shirt pocket tucked behind a metal mirror.

Someone propelled me to the petty officers wardroom. We were fed hot tea and biscuits. We were well out at sea sailing for England when the ship’s ‘tannoy’ broadcast a message that the French Army had given up and Petain had signed the Vichy Agreement. We had little to say. It seemed we had run away. The relief of being alive over rode the gloom and sense of shame. It was all very daunting.

We drew into Devenport. As we tied alongside some well wishers on the dock had little sense. They threw tins of ‘bully’ and other food up to the deck with such vigour we were under a bombardment for a few minutes. One poor fellow having escaped unharmed had his head cut open with a tin of bully. Whilst on the Havelock I had taken off my sodden trousers, someone had taken them away to dry and I couldn’t get them back. I was given a ship’s blanket that I wrapped round me to go ashore. Going down the gangplank I trod on the trailing blanket, tripped and was grabbed by two Wren nurses at the bottom of the gangway. They were going to whip me away in an old world war one, canvas tilted, ambulance. The more I resisted the more convinced they seemed I was a ‘shock” case. I got away and followed the rest to the barrack block close at hand.

Whilst resting for a couple of days we received an issue of fresh uniform and basic gear. After we had been sorted out and our unit or regiment informed, I and a few others of the unit who fetched up at Davenport were detailed to report to Leeds. I telephoned my parents who were delighted. No leave was forthcoming. We were told that would be sorted once we reported to our unit. Leeds Town Hall a magnificent building. We bedded everywhere. I found a space on the stage near the organ console. Joy and sadness abound -ed as members of C. R. E. No.2 found each other. We learned nine personnel had been lost. One was dear old Captain Dennison. The staff sergeant had gone.

Another chap we all missed was ‘Mate’ a driver in H.Q. He had been friendly with all officers, NCOs, and the O. Rs. He was an incorrigible wag. At Nantes he had found some pornographic drawings, exquisitely drafted and beautifully coloured. They were works of art, e’en if very naughty. They were shown to all who wished to see and he had tucked them in his jacket swearing he would give them up to no one. Poor old ‘Matey’ with his pictures at the bottom of the sea. Teddy Perfect who I had last seen going down a rope over the side was his cheerful jolly self other than having both hands bandaged. He had burnt the skin off sliding down the rope.

We shared a posh billet. Our new headquarters were in a large house in Allerton Park. We were billeted in houses nearby. The excitement of going on ‘survivor’ leave was too much. Everyone wanted to know details of the road back from France. My story of the escape after Dunkirk of which people knew little seemed dramatic. The story of the Lancastria seemed a bit over the top. I stopped talking about it other than saying we came out down the Loire valley. “Oh, weren’t you at Dunkirk?” they asked, and lost interest when I said I came out of France at St. Nazaire. The disaster, the biggest loss of life at sea ever, almost 3,000 were lost. Churchill who thought it would be bad for morale suppressed news of the event. It was published seven years later.


Laurence E. Wakefield

Extract from the memoirs of the late Laurence Wakefield by permission of his daughter, Patricia Joy



Joined Territorial Army in Liverpool. Royal Engineers – army trade ‘Surveyor’. Training 3 evenings a week and some weekends. Living and working at Formby. Journey to TA in Liverpool (South) included train full length of overhead railway with view of the ships using the Port.


Went to Annual camp (2 weeks) at Halton near Lancaster on River Lune. Bridging camp – pontoons – folding boats – small box girder bridges. At end of 2 weeks kept at Halton – war was imminent. Embodied into Regular Army “Took the King’s Shilling”.


War declared. Returned to Liverpool from Halton. Transferred to similar unit at St Helens.


Sent to France with British Expeditionary Force. Various locations in France then settled on outskirts of Lille. Worked as a draughtsman on Detailing or Scheduling Steel Reinforcement for construction of strong points on the extension of the Maginot Line. 1940 Applied for a commission. Returned to England – went to York for interview re commission – was accepted BUT on account of my age (22) was told it would be Infantry commission NOT Royal Engineers. This I did not want so returned to France and rejoined my unit. Offered chance to transfer to another part of Royal Engineers “Establishment for Engineer
Services” which I accepted. Went on a course for a month in Brittany – very pleasant during spring – passed out as Engineer Draughtsman (L/Cpl) with indication that I could progress to Military Foreman of Works (S/Sgt). Posted to C.R.E (South) Advanced Air Striking Force at Rheims. Went by train to Paris and on from Gare de L’Est by ordinary passenger train to Rheims.

That was when it all started – there had not really been an active war before that. The train and others on the track were bombed and strafed. When raids finished the British Army other ranks from the train – 12 of us – all individual like myself travelling alone (no units) got together and, as the railway obviously could not function, decided to set out walking. We walked in a southerly direction for a long way and when it was dark we came to a farm which had been abandoned with doors left open – remains of the fire still burning in the grate – cows not milked – the occupants had obviously fled on this first day of the “real war”.

We made a meal and went to bed for the night taking it in turns to keep watch and by morning 6 of the group had gone on. We – the remaining 6 continued walking – 2 went off in another direction, and, after a while, we remaining 4 came up to a railway line and trains were running on that line. We followed it and came to a village where there was a large crowd all waiting to evacuate the area.

Trains came to the station and reversed back to wards Paris. When the French police saw the 4 of us in uniform they were very agitated (they drew their revolvers and we were forced into an air raid shelter alongside the station. A German plane was circling around overhead watching the proceedings. The crowd got much less as the people got away on the train until there were not many left and we thought the train then at the platform would be the last one, so we had to do something to get on that train. There was a van on the train with a sliding door not fully closed, so, as the train started up

slowly, we dashed out of the shelter – shouting – banging our tin hats and generally causing a commotion which took the police by surprise. We pulled the sliding door open and, as the train got going, we jumped into the van. The train got up a good speed and the German planes attacked it, but this time we were lucky and the bombs missed and the train rocked alarmingly, but stayed on the track and we got back safely to Paris where we were taken in for questioning. We were suspect as no British troops had been where we came from. After a few days in Paris, the unit I was trying to join was located at Troyes which was south of the push the Germans were making. I got to Troyes from Paris with no further trouble. The retreat from Dunkirk was in progress but we were south of it and read about it each morning in the papers.

After a short time in Troyes, we moved suddenly to a small village, Aulnay-La-Riviere, south of Paris near to Pithiviers and there we saw something of the evacuation of Paris in face of the German advance. The population came through the village in their thousands – first in cars, buses, lorries etc, then on cycles, pushing prams, handcarts, wheelbarrows – anything that would take some of their possessions – people on foot in all sorts of conditions.

Again we moved on by road – just a few vehicles – we were a small H.Q. unit. We went right across France generally following the Loire until we got to Nantes where we stayed for a couple of days – we were employed destroying documents etc. from British H.Q. at Nantes and then we moved on to an unfinished airfield between Nantes and St Nazaire. There were thousands of British troops there in the open subject to air raids. During the night, we walked on into St Nazaire and into the large transit sheds on the Docks. Our vehicles along with many others were put into a large square formation and were destroyed by fire.

In the morning 2 British destroyers came into the dock and and took off the troops. We went on one of them and thought we were going home – little did we know that most of us were on our last journey and were, in fact, “Going Home”. When we were well out of St. Nazaire (10 miles, I believe) we came to 2 large liners – the one I went to I recognised from the Liverpool Docks – it was a Cunarder “Lancastria”, the other was the Orient line “Oronsay”. When we boarded the Lancastria, we were sent down to the dining room where we had the best meal for weeks served by Cunard stewards. We were then sent back up to make way for the next sitting. With a few of our unit I went to the Shelter Deck (aft) on the starboard side. The ship was absolutely packed with troops plus a few civilians. During the late afternoon we were attacked by German planes – firstly the Oronsay was hit and damaged but remained afloat, then we were attacked. The bombs scored a direct hit and the ship began to sink. At first it seemed to be going on the starboard side, when everyone moved across she righted for a few minutes and then started to go over on the port side.

No life belts had been issued and I decided the only thing to do was to strip off and go in the water and try my luck by swimming. So I went over the side – part way down a rope ladder and jumped into the sea. I was not a good swimmer, but I had to do my best. There were hundreds of us swimming for our lives and the German planes were dropping bombs amongst us, strafing us, and they set fire to the oil which escaped from the sinking ship. I don’t know for how long I swam, but I was about all in when I suddenly came near to an open boat – a lifeboat from another ship. I managed to get up to it and hung on to the lifeline along the boat and, when I had recovered somewhat, I was pulled into the boat. I remember that my reaction was that I could not stop talking! I took over an oar and so helped to get the boat up to a British armed trawler, the “Cambridgeshire”.

The trawler was packed with survivors – some 600 I believe – on a trawler! The plan was to go back into St. Nazaire but the tide had gone out and the vessel would have grounded, so we were taken to the “John Holt” – a Birkenhead cargo ship. We were put in the hold and forbidden to show our faces. The hatches were put on and our luck was really in – we sailed round the occupied coast of Brittany and got to Plymouth without incident. We were taken to a hall of some sorts wrapped in blankets, which were thrown from the quay on to the ship. That blanket was all I possessed and it wasn’t really mine.

The Lancastria sank in 20 minutes after the bombs hit her. The casualties were enormous – just over 2,000 survived – there is no accurate count of the number that perished as it was not known how many were on board, but it is thought that at least 4,000 lost their lives.

As she went down, singing could be heard across the water from those about to perish, “Rollout the barrel” and “There’ll always be an England”.

Our unit lost several members, but, because we were on the open deck, we were luckier than those who were below. They stood no chance. I owe my life to the fact that I could swim – albeit poorly, and the open boat which suddenly appeared – in answer to my prayers I’ll always believe.

The Lancastria sank on 17th June 1940 – a fortnight after the end of the Dunkirk evacuation. It was probably the worst maritime disaster in British history in terms of lives lost.

We were given basic clothing etc at Plymouth – the first thing the Army gave me was a razor!

We went by train to Leeds, spent the first night on the floor under the Town Hall and next day were taken to compulsory billets in the area – “How many bed spaces have you got, Missus? Right – next 3 in here!”. I went to a Jewish family in Chapeltown who treated me very well.

The unit reformed at Leeds. I was out-stationed at Lincoln and Sybil and I were married at Crewe Green on November 9th 1940 – I went back to Leeds.


RMS Lancastria (later HMT Lancastria)[Note 1] was a British Cunard liner commandeered by the UK Government during World War II. She was sunk on 17 June 1940 during Operation Ariel. Having received an emergency order to evacuate British nationals and troops in excess of its capacity of 1,300 passengers,[4] modern estimates range between 3,000 and 5,800 fatalities—the largest single-ship loss of life in British maritime history.[2][5] The sinking of HMT Lancastria claimed more lives than the combined losses of the RMS Titanic (1,517 passengers and crew) and RMS Lusitania (1,198 passengers).


RMS Lancastria (centre) at Funchal, Madeira, c. 1930.

The ship was launched in 1920 as Tyrrhenia by William Beardmore and Company of Glasgow on the River Clyde for Anchor Line, a subsidiary of Cunard. She was the sister ship of RMS Cameronia that Beardmore's had built for the same customer the previous year.[6]Tyrrhenia was 16,243 gross register tons, 578-foot (176 m) long and could carry 2,200 passengers in three classes. She made her maiden voyage, Glasgow–Quebec CityMontreal, on 19 June 1922.[7]

In 1924 she was refitted for two classes and renamed Lancastria, after passengers complained that they could not properly pronounce Tyrrhenia. She sailed scheduled routes between Liverpool and New York until 1932, and was then used as a cruise ship in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe.[8] On 10 October 1932 Lancastria rescued the crew of the Belgian cargo ship SS Scheldestad, which had been abandoned in a sinking condition in the Bay of Biscay.[9] In 1934 the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland chartered Lancastria for a pilgrimage to Rome.[8][10] With the outbreak of the Second World War she carried cargo, and was then requisitioned in April 1940 as a troopship, becoming HMT Lancastria. She was first used to assist in the evacuation of troops from Norway.

Sinking and its aftermath

The Lancastria was sunk off the French port of St. Nazaire while taking part in Operation Ariel, the evacuation of British nationals and troops from France, two weeks after the Dunkirk evacuation.

After a short overhaul, she left Liverpool on 14 June under Captain Rudolph Sharp (born 27 October 1885) and arrived in the mouth of the Loire estuary on 16 June. She anchored 11 miles (18 km) south-west of St. Nazaire. By the mid-afternoon of 17 June she had embarked an unknown number (estimates range from 4,000 up to 9,000)[5] of civilian refugees (including embassy staff and employees of Fairey Aviation of Belgium), line-of-communication troops (including Pioneer and RASC soldiers) and RAF personnel. The ship's official capacity was 2,200 including the 375-man crew.[11] Captain Sharp had been instructed by the Royal Navy to "load as many men as possible without regard to the limits set down under international law".[4]

At 13:50, during an air-raid, the nearby Oronsay, a 20,000-ton Orient Liner, was hit on the bridge by a German bomb. Lancastria was free to depart and the captain of the British destroyer HMS Havelock advised her to do so, but without a destroyer escort as defence against possible submarine attack Sharp decided to wait.[11]

Lancastria sinking off Saint-Nazaire, France, 17 June 1940.

A fresh air raid began before 16:00. Lancastria was bombed at 15:48 by Junkers Ju 88 aircraft from II. Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 30. Three direct hits caused the ship to list first to starboard then to port while a fourth bomb fell down the ship's smokestack detonating inside the engine room and releasing 1,200 tons of crude oil into the Loire estuary. 15 minutes after being hit, the Lancastria turtled and some of those who were still on board managed to scramble over the ship's railing to sit on the Lancastria's underside. The Lancastria sank within twenty minutes. When German pilots began strafing at survivors in the water, they ignited the more than 1,200 tons of fuel oil which had leaked into the sea which was quickly transformed into a flaming inferno. Many drowned, were choked by the oil, or were shot by strafing German aircraft. Survivors were taken aboard other evacuation vessels, the trawler Cambridgeshire rescuing 900.[11] There were 2,477 survivors, of whom about 100 were still alive in 2011.[5] Many families of the dead knew only that they died with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF); the death toll accounted for roughly a third of the total losses of the BEF in France.[5] She sank around 5 nmi (9.3 km) south of Chémoulin Point in the Charpentier roads, around 9 nmi (17 km) from St. Nazaire. The Lancastria Association names 1,738 people known to have been killed.[12] In 2005, Fenby wrote that estimates of the death toll vary from fewer than 3,000 to 5,800 people although it is also estimated that as many as 6,500 people perished, the largest loss of life in British maritime history.[2]

Rudolph Sharp survived the sinking and went on to command the RMS Laconia, losing his life on 12 September 1942 when that ship was torpedoed and sunk off West Africa.

Availability of information

The immense loss of life was such that the British government suppressed news of the disaster through the D-Notice system, but the story was broken by the Press Association on 25 July,[13] in the United States by The New York Times and in Britain by The Scotsman on 26 July, more than five weeks after the sinking. Other British newspapers then covered the story, including the Daily Herald (also on 26 July), which carried the story on its front page, and Sunday Express on 4 August; the latter included a photograph of the capsized ship with her upturned hull lined with men under the headline "Last Moments of the Greatest Sea Tragedy of All Time", but the full story of the Lancastria never came out.[5] As part of the government-ordered cover-up, survivors and the crews of the ships that had gone to the aid of Lancastria did not at the time publicly discuss the disaster.

In July 2007 another request for documents held by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) related to the sinking was rejected by the British government. The Lancastria Association of Scotland made a further request in 2009. They were told that release under the FOIA would not be given because of several exemptions.[14][Note 2]

In the face of continued campaigning by relatives, the MoD stated in 2015 that all known documents had long been released through the National Archives.[15]

Status of the wreck

The British government has refused to make the site a war grave under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 although documents obtained under freedom of information legislation (FOIA) show that it could be done.[citation needed] Early in the 21st century the French Government placed an exclusion zone around the wreck site.

The Lancastria Association of Scotland began a campaign in 2005 to secure greater recognition for the loss of life aboard Lancastria and the acknowledgment of the endurance of survivors that day. It petitioned Downing Street to have the wreck site designated an official maritime war grave. The British Government did not do so as it was within French territorial waters, outside the jurisdiction of the Act.[16] The campaign received support from MPs, Lords, MEPs and MSPs from all parties, but the MoD said that such a move would be "purely symbolic" and have no effect. In 2006, 14 additional wrecks sunk at the Battle of Jutland were designated as war graves, but the Lancastria was not.

The MoD stated in 2015 that "as the French Government has provided an appropriate level of protection to the Lancastria through French law and it is formally considered a military maritime grave by the MoD, we believe that the wreck has the formal status and protection it deserves."[15]


St Nazaire: the HMT Lancastria Memorial on the left and the Operation Chariot Memorial on the right.

All service personnel killed during the Second World War are recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and where known that they lost their lives on the Lancastria. 1,816 burials are recorded, over 400 of them in France.[17]

Survivors’ and relatives’ associations

After the war, the Lancastria Survivors Association was founded by Major Peter Petit, but this lapsed on his death in 1969. It reformed in 1981 as The HMT Lancastria Association and continues the tradition of a parade and remembrance service at the Church of St Katharine Cree in the City of London, where there is a memorial stained glass window.[18] The Lancastria Association of Scotland was formed in 2005 and holds its annual service at St George's West Church in Edinburgh.[19]

The Lancastria Association of Scotland has members throughout the UK, France and the rest of Europe as well as members in North America, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. It also organises the largest memorial service for the victims in the UK. The service, which is attended by survivors and relatives of both victims and survivors together with representatives of the French and Scottish Governments and a number of veterans organisations and is held on the Saturday closest to the anniversary of 17 June each year at St. George's West Church, Edinburgh.

In 2005 and 2007 the Association held a special exhibition at the Scottish Parliament to highlight the loss. MSPs also signed a special hand-bound book of remembrance. The Association maintains the largest online archive of Lancastria material on the internet.[19] The website received over 250,000 hits in 2007.[20]

In June 2010 to mark the 70th anniversary of the sinking, special ceremonies and services of remembrance were held in Edinburgh and St. Nazaire. As the 100th anniversary of the RMS Titanic sinking took place in 2012, fresh calls were made for "official recognition" of the loss of the Lancastria by the British Government.[21] The day of the 75th anniversary of the loss of Lancastria was marked in the Westminster Parliament on 17 June 2015 at Prime Minister's Questions by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, who was standing in for the Prime Minister. Osborne said of the sinking; "It was kept secret at the time for reasons of wartime secrecy, but I think it is appropriate today in this House of Commons to remember all those who died, those who survived, and those who mourn them."[22]

The Lancastria Commemorative Medal

In 2007 the Lancastria Association of Scotland began a petition to the Scottish Parliament, calling for a special commemorative medal to be commissioned and awarded to all those who were aboard the ship that day. In December 2007, following a debate in the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government said it had held talks with the British Government to try and persuade them to introduce a commemorative medal as a symbol of official recognition and acknowledgement for all those who had been aboard Lancastria. In a letter sent to the Scottish Parliament's public petitions committee in December 2007, Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Defence, stated that the event "must never be forgotten" but that there was "no tradition in the United Kingdom to offer medals to commemorate specific incidents like the sinking of the HMT Lancastria".[23] No campaign medal was ever awarded for the Battle of France, but any serviceman who had spent "a single day, or part thereof" in France or Belgium between 10 May and 19 June 1940 qualified for the 1939-1945 Star.[24]

On 12 June 2008, at a ceremony at the Scottish Parliament, First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond presented the first batch of medals to survivors and relatives of victims and survivors; the HMT Lancastria Commemorative Medal, which represented "official Scottish Government recognition" of the Lancastria disaster.[25] 150 survivors and relatives gathered from across the United Kingdom and Ireland for the event. The medal was designed by Mark Hirst, grandson of Lancastria survivor Walter Hirst.[26] The inscription on the rear of the medal reads: "In recognition of the ultimate sacrifice of the 4000 victims of Britain's worst ever maritime disaster and the endurance of survivors – We will remember them".[25] The front of the medal depicts the Lancastria with the text "HMT Lancastria – 17th June 1940". The medal ribbon has a grey background with a red and black central stripe, representative of the ship's wartime and merchant marine colours.

According to official guidance issued by the Scottish Government, medal recipients are permitted to wear the medal in public along with their other campaign medals. The medal is subject to formal application and open to all survivors who were aboard the Lancastria on 17 June 1940. Relatives of victims are also eligible to claim for the medal, so long as they can provide supporting evidence that their relative was aboard the ship. An estimated 400 Scots were amongst the 4,000 killed when Lancastria was attacked and sunk. The Scottish Government decided to proceed in light of the "unique scale" of the tragedy and because survivors "have had to endure a lack of recognition of the events of that June day from a succession of Governments".[27] The closing date for applications for the medal was 15 May 2015, by which time almost 400 had been issued.[28]


A memorial on the sea-front at St Nazaire was unveiled on 17 June 1988, "in proud memory of more than 4,000 who died and in commemoration of the people of Saint Nazaire and surrounding districts who saved many lives, tended wounded and gave a Christian burial to victims".[19]

The missing British military dead from the sinking of the Lancastria (those whose bodies were not recovered or were unable to be identified) are commemorated on a number of Commonwealth War Graves Commission memorials (those identified were buried in cemeteries and are marked with Commission headstones). Around 700 missing of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) are commemorated on the Dunkirk Memorial. The missing dead who served in the Navy are commemorated on the naval memorials at Chatham, Plymouth and Portsmouth, with missing merchant seamen named at the Tower Hill Memorial, and the missing airmen who went down with the ship, listed on the Runnymede Memorial.[29]

Lancastria is represented at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire by a Sessile oak tree and a plaque.[30]

St Katharine Cree church in the City of London has a memorial window to Lancastria. It also has a model of the ship in a glass case and the ship's bell is also in the church.[31]

Scouting Ireland's national campsite Larch Hill has an anchor memorial to the Lancastria, commemorating the legacy of the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland's pilgrimage in 1932.[32]

RMS/HMT Lancastria, commemorative desk in Liverpool, unveiled IX 2013 on Pier Head

In October 2011 the Lancastria Association of Scotland has erected a memorial to the victims on the site where the ship was built, the former Dalmuir shipyard at Clydebank, Glasgow, now the grounds of the Golden Jubilee Hospital.[26][33][34]

In September 2013, a plaque was unveiled at Liverpool's Pier Head by Lord Mayor Gary Millar commemorating the loss of the ship.[35][36]

The wreck site of HMT Lancastria lies in French territorial waters and is therefore ineligible for protection under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986; however, at the request of the British Government, in 2006 the French authorities gave the site legal protection as a war grave.[37]

References in popular culture

The 2001 novel Atonement by Ian McEwan includes a passage that describes the subject of the book, Briony Tallis, having to nurse badly wounded survivors from the Lancastria, but sets it during the earlier Dunkirk evacuation, probably a deliberate inaccuracy to make the event fit the narrative.[38] The 2007 film version of that book, also called Atonement, repeats the error, having Robbie Turner arrive at Dunkirk a day after the Lancastria sinks and his superior officer tells him about it.[39]

The autobiography of Lucilla Andrews, No Time for Romance (1977), describes nursing Lancastria survivors at St Thomas' Hospital in London, which McEwan used as a source for his novel. Andrews also wrote a fictionalised account of this event in her novel, A Hospital Summer (1951).[40]

Alastair MacLean's collection of short stories,The Lonely Sea, includes several factual stories. One is entitled Lancastria and recounts the events leading to and during the loss of the ship, and some details of the aftermath.

In Archyology, a collection of Don Marquis's popular Archy and Mehitabel tales, Archy, Mehitabel, and Marquis all travel from New York City to Paris on the ship during its early days, when it was still named Tyrrhenia.[41]

When the British TV personality Amanda Holden appeared on the TV show Who Do You Think You Are?, she learned that her grandfather Frank Holden, a psychiatric nurse, was on the Lancastria when it sank, and committed suicide many years later after witnessing thousands drown in the disaster.[42]


  1. ^ "RMS" stands for Royal Mail Ship; HMT stands for His Majesty's Transport
  2. ^ Section 36; prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs; Section 40(2); contains personal information; Section 40(3); Release would contravene section 10 of the Data Protection Act 1998: "processing likely to cause damage or distress"; Section 41; supplied in confidence; Section 44; Exempt from disclosure under the Human Rights Act 1998.


  1. ^ Talbot-Booth, EC (1937). Merchant Ships. London: Sampson-Low and Marston. 
  2. ^ a b c Fenby 2005, p. 247.
  3. ^ Lancastria Association Victim List.; retrieved .
  4. ^ a b "Lancastria Association of Scotland". Retrieved 10 January 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "BBC - History - World Wars: The 'Lancastria' - a Secret Sacrifice in World War Two". 
  6. ^ "Lancastria". Chris's Cunard Page. Retrieved 15 July 2010. 
  7. ^ "Lancastria". Retrieved 3 August 2010. 
  8. ^ a b "About Us : History of Scouting in Ireland". Scouting Ireland. 2009. Archived from the original on 6 November 2009. Retrieved 3 June 2009. 
  9. ^ "Belgian Merchant P–Z" (PDF). Belgische Koopvaardij. Retrieved 1 December 2010. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b c Sebag-Montiefiore 2006, pp. 487–495
  12. ^ "Victim list". 17 June 1940. Retrieved 3 June 2015.  List of those found and buried ashore, or reported to be on board at the time of the sinking and presumed. lost in the action
  13. ^ "LANCASTRIA SUNK, SAYS U.S.". Hull Daily Mail. 25 July 2015. Retrieved 19 June 2015 – via British Newspaper Archive. (Subscription required (help)). 
  14. ^ Martyred Ships: Cold Cases. Maritime Mysteries. Grand Angle Productions. 2012. 
  15. ^ a b Fraser, Graham (13 June 2015). "Lancastria: The forgotten tragedy of World War Two". BBC Scotland. Retrieved 13 June 2015. 
  16. ^ "War grave campaign in legal move". BBC News website. BBC. 20 November 2006. Retrieved 4 January 2010. 
  17. ^ Fenby 2005, p. 234.
  18. ^ "About us". Archived from the original on 25 October 2009. Retrieved 19 June 2015. 
  19. ^ a b c "The Lancastria Association of Scotland". Lancastria Organization website. 
  20. ^ "Recognition of Lancastria Dead". BBC News. 6 December 2007. Retrieved 4 January 2010. 
  21. ^ "Recognition remains sunk without a trace, by Mark Hirst". The Scotsman. 19 April 2012. Retrieved 19 April 2012. 
  22. ^ Chapman, James (18 June 2015). "Sinking of the Lancastria is marked at last: Wartime loss of troop ship that cost 4,000 lives to be commemorated 75 years on". The Daily Mail - Associated Newspapers Ltd. Retrieved 28 March 2016. 
  23. ^ "Browne rejects plea for medals to mark 1940 sinking of Lancastria". The Scotsman - Johnston Publishing Ltd. 30 December 2007. Retrieved 28 March 2016. 
  24. ^ "The 1939-1945 Star Regulations". New Zealand Defence Force. 25 November 2013. Retrieved 28 March 2016. 
  25. ^ a b "Lancastria dead gain recognition". BBC online. 12 June 2008. Retrieved 18 June 2015. 
  26. ^ a b "Victims of HMT Lancastria sinking honoured with memorial". The Telegraph. 1 October 2011. Retrieved 18 June 2015. 
  27. ^ "Statement from Alex Salmond Scotlands First Minister". Lancastria Recognition Campaign/ on Facebook. 4 June 2012. Retrieved 18 June 2015.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  28. ^ "Lancastria: Families urged to claim WWII medals". BBC. 5 April 2015. Retrieved 28 March 2016. 
  29. ^ "The Sinking of HMT Lancastria". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 23 July 2016. 
  30. ^ The National Memorial Arboretum
  31. ^ "HMT. Lancastria 17th June 1940 & Operation Aerial". 
  32. ^ "NMC Lay a wreath at the Memorial for The Lancastria" (PDF). Scouting Ireland - InSIde Out. July 2012. p. 21. 
  33. ^ "Wartime Memorial to Britain's worst maritime disaster". STV News. 3 October 2011. Retrieved 4 October 2011. 
  34. ^ "Statue marks Clyde site where Lancastria was built". 1 October 2011. Retrieved 18 June 2015. 
  35. ^ "Page Not Found". 
  36. ^ Lancastria Victims Remembered
  37. ^ Howe, Earl, The Right Honorable (17 June 2015). "The 75th anniversary of the sinking of HMT Lancastria". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 28 March 2016. 
  38. ^ Alden, Natasha (2014), Reading Behind the Lines: Postmemory in Contemporary British War Fiction, Manchester University Press ISBN 978-0719088933 (pp. 158-159)
  39. ^ Sandys, Jon. "Atonement (2007) - Top 10 Mistakes". Retrieved 28 March 2016. 
  40. ^ Alden 2014 p. 150
  41. ^ Archyology: The Long Lost Tales of Archy and Mehitabel, Don Marquis, 1996, p. 18
  42. ^ "Amanda Holden opens up over grandad's suicide after worst Brit Maritime disaster". 17 November 2016. 


Other sources

External links

Coordinates: 47°10′26″N 2°19′15″W / 47.17389°N 2.32083°W / 47.17389; -2.32083


Lancastria links

HMT Lancastria Association  The HMT Lancastria Association remembers and honours all those who were present or who lost their lives in the Lancastria disaster.
HMT Lancastria Archive The HMT Lancastria Archive has many survivor accounts of the disaster.

Military transport >>>