Remembering HMT Lancastria

2 July 2010 by Sam

This Sunday a Radio 4 documentary, The Sinking of the Lancastria, will highlight the 70th anniversary of Britain’s worst ever maritime disaster. The anniversary was also featured in the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning with interviews with some of the survivors who had gone to lay wreaths at the site of the sinking. It’s worth taking a few minutes to listen again on the BBC website if you missed that.

Curator of maritime collections Ellie Moffat explains more about the tragedy:

old writch watch

Wrist watch owned by HMT Lancastria survivor Sidney H Dunmall. On display in Merseyside Maritime Museum, accession number MMM 1998.145.4

“On the declaration of war in 1939, Cunard passenger liner Lancastria was requisitioned for troop carrying. On 17 June 1940 Lancastria was anchored off the coast of France, taking on board retreating British troops. She was taking part in Operation Ariel, the evacuation of British nationals and troops, two weeks after Dunkirk.

There were on board in excess of 5000 troops, as well as civilians and crew when Lancastria suffered heavy air attack. In what Winston Churchill described as “the most terrible disaster in our naval history,” many thousands of lives were lost.

Merseyside Maritime Museum’s ‘Life at Sea’ gallery on the first floor includes a display featuring Lancastria, as well as other merchant vessels usedto support military operations.

Amongst the objects on display is a wrist watch worn by Sidney H Dunmall, of the Royal Army Pay Corps, a survivor who leapt in to the sea to escape the sinking ship. It was donated to the museum by the HMT Lancastria Association.

Other items include a lunch menu dated 17 June 1940, a discharge book of Gerrard Walsh who was assistant butcher on board, and two miniature trophies owned by survivors Arthur Pownall and Corporal Bray of the Royal Engineers.”

  1. Keith at tregenna says:

    Please further remember all:

    The Big Remembrance

    24 hour Act of Remembrance on World Maritime Day
    Maritime Charity urges public to remember merchant seafarers on 23rd September

    To mark World Maritime Day during the International Year of the Seafarer the Principal Chaplain of the global charity Sailors’ Society will be leading a ceremony during which each of the 35,675 names on the National Merchant Navy Memorials in Trinity Gardens, London will be read aloud.

    The Tower Hill memorial which was built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and unveiled in December 1928, stands as a visible reminder of the sacrifices made by Merchant Seafarers in times of military conflict, and who have no grave but the sea.

    The Sailors’ Society is committed to replacing isolation with belonging for the world’s seafarers and has supported them and their families for the past 193 years. The Society believes that the event will serve as a formal and dignified Act of Remembrance. It will take 24 hours to read each name on the memorial and ensure that each and every seafarer’s contribution has been recognised. Principal Chaplain Revd. David Potterton will be assisted in the reading by other Sailors’ Society Port Chaplains, staff and supporters, as well as by Merchant Navy Veterans from the Prince of Wales Sea Training School Association, remembering their shipmates who perished at sea.

    Revd David Potterton, Principal Chaplain at the Sailors’ Society said,
    "We wanted every name on the memorials to be read on World Maritime Day as a reminder of the huge loss of merchant seafarers in times of military conflict. Every ship and every name will be remembered to ensure that they are honoured and not forgotten."

    The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which built and now maintains the Tower Hill Memorial is backing the event. The Commission’s Director-General Richard Kellaway said:
    "At over 22,500 sites in 150 countries, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission helps ensure that those men and women who laid down their lives are never forgotten. I hope this event to honour seafarers will help remind people of the sacrifice of those who helped keep Britain and the Commonwealth supplied during the darkest days of war."

    The reading of names will commence at 0001hrs on 23rd September and conclude at 2400hrs the same day.


  2. lynn Amos says:

    Hi,I wonder if you can help. My grandfather was a merchant seaman and died on the Lancastria at Dunkirk. My father and his siblings were about to be taken into care as my grandmother was finding it difficult to cope financially A charity or organisation assisted the family and they were able to remain together. I would very much like to contact the charity and thank them. Do you have any idea of the name of the organisation.Many thanks.

  3. David Dalrymple says:

    It is good to remember that France have a memorial to those lost at St Nazaire near where the wreck site is. They have named a street (esplanade Lancastria) and a school house after the ship plus Alex Salmond Scotlands first Minister has given a medal to the scottish survivors in 2008 extending it to British survivors + families of those lost. In reply you might ask what have our British Government done in reply-"NOTHING".
    Please go to our petition for recognition from our British Government at: plus their is a web site for a new documentary soon to be released- Please sign

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