Shipping & Shipbuilding News -  7 December 2007 - The Brightest Maritime Daily
 


Scottish Government backs calls for LANCASTRIA medal
Pressure on British government to recognise all who were on ill fated ship...
 

The Scottish Government has backed calls to commission a commemorative
medal for Scots involved in Britain's worst ever maritime disaster and
confirmed that they have made official representations to the British
Government to ensure all those who were aboard the Lancastria are
officially recognised. The news came during a debate secured by SNP MSP
Christine Grahame who has worked for some years with Lancastria families
to secure greater recognition for a disaster which was officially
covered up.

Ms Grahame said:

"This is wonderful news for the families and I am absolutely delighted
that at last there has been official recognition given to those who paid
the ultimate sacrifice and those survivors who endured the horrors of
the sinking and the decades of official silence.

"The pressure is now clearly on the British Government to ensure that
all those who were aboard, regardless of their nationality, are properly
and formally recognised.

"This is a significant day for the campaigners and Scottish Ministers
have demonstrated real stature in moving to recognise a tragedy which
has been ignored and forgotten by successive British Governments."

Chairperson of the Lancastria Association of Scotland Fiona Symon, whose
father Andrew Richardson from Kirkcaldy was one of the estimated 400
Scots killed in action aboard the Lancastria added:

"This has been a very emotional day, but I am delighted at the
announcement by the Minister and the Scottish Government. I cannot thank
them enough on behalf of myself and the Lancastria survivors and
relatives.

"The medal is a tangible acknowledgement of the sacrifice of the victims
and endurance of the survivors. Despite the passage of 67 years since
the loss of the Lancastria the pain and heartache of families is still
very real and was made worse by the official cover up and lack of
recognition. Today the Scottish Government has moved to address that. I
do hope now that the British Government will follow the lead taken here and
ensure UK wide recognition for all those who were aboard the Lancastria that day."

The Clyde built troopship Lancastria was evacuating troops and refugees off the French coast in June 1940 when she was bombed by enemy aircraft and sank in just 20 minutes. The disaster was the worst single loss of life for British forces in the whole of World War 2

A brief history of the LANCASTRIA
She was built in Dalmuir, near Clydebank in the then modern shipyard of Wm Beardmore, part of a huge empire of industries that included shipbuilding, armaments, vehicles and aircraft manufacture. Her original name was TYRRHENIA, and was laid down for the Anchor Line, a respected and venerable Glasgow shipping company. By this time time Anchor was owned by Cunard and many of the vessels built for each company would work for either or both of them. TYRRHENIA began life as a Cunarder as her ownership was transferred to the Cunard books as she was building.

By all accounts her early years were not remarkable. It is said that her name was changed to LANCASTRIA two years after she went into service because American's had difficulty getting their tongues round her original name. That may be true, but another story is that she had earned the nickname 'Soup Tureen' - which was hardly flattering.

She did not last long as a liner, Cunard deciding after only two voyages that she would be better suited in the cruise market, and so after a refit in 1924 and gaining her new name she began the role that by and large she maintained up until the outbreak of war in 1939 and by 1940 she had yet another new role - troopship.


On the morning of 17th June 1940 she found herself off the coast of France, waiting at anchor to board troops, the remnants of the British Expeditionary force. Dunkirk had happened two weeks prior to this. You can read a full account of the boarding at the Association's website, but to cut the story short, she had to load as many men as could struggle aboard her. How many is unclear, some estimates say as high as 9000, and it may have been, but whatever the number, it was well in excess of her accepted maximum of 3000. By the afternoon the ship was swarming with men packed on her decks, holds and cabins, and then the German aircraft came in.

The attack was swift, the effects devastating. Within minutes LANCASTRIA was ablaze in parts and sinking. Men scrambled for boats, for the water, or clung to her hull as she slowly turned, dying in the sea. Harrowing pictures of the foundering vessel show men spiked over the great undersides like starlings.  Knowing their time was up, the men began to sing defiantly as they clung to the ship, its propellers now exposed.

And as the ship rolled, the song they sang was 'Roll Out The Barrel'...


For details of the Association and for further information on RMS LANCASTRIA, see the Association's website.

 

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