HMT Lancastria: a survivor’s words

17 June 2015 by Jen

Private Tom Wood

Private Tom Wood. Copyright unknown; please contact us if you are the copyright holder of this image, as efforts to trace and obtain permission from the copyright holder have been unsuccessful.

Last week I blogged about the tragic loss of the HMT Lancastria in the Second World War and the commemorative service held at Our Lady and St Nicholas’ church last Saturday.  Used during the service were extracts from a first hand account of the sinking, as told by a survivor in a letter belonging to the Maritime Archives collections.

Private Tom Wood (pictured here) was one of the fortunate survivors and wrote afterwards to his girlfriend (later to become his wife) of the bombing, his escape and long swim until he was eventually picked up an hour later, and of looking back from the deck of the tug that had rescued him.

“I shall never forget what I could se, and their cries they stunned me like a little child tears were beginning to roll down my cheeks.” [sic]

Tom was only 21 at the time of the sinking and it is painfully clear in the letter what an emotional impact the experience had on him.  The letter is dated four months after the sinking but he writes of having woken with dreams of the sinking:

“this last night or two I have wakened up in the night and sat up in bed and after a few seconds it has come to me, the Ship The Water, And the cries for help, it is all coming back to me at night.  I shall never forget that Monday afternoon when the sun was shining beautiful and the sea was calm” [sic]

The Lancastria sank 75 years ago today at 3.10pm British time with a loss of several thousand lives.  It is one of Britain’s worst maritime disasters with the highest death toll for the loss of a single British ship in history.

  1. Dr Jon Coulston says:

    Read your pieces on HTS Lancastria with interest. I was in La Baula and Saint-Nazaire in Brittany for the 14th June to visit my paternal grandfather’s grave with my father and brother. Capt Henry Coulston (King’s Own Royal Regt) died in hospital at La Baule on the 14th, otherwise he would have been on the Lancastria on the 16th, and is buried with Lancastria dead and Saint-Nazaire Raid people. My father (himself in the Merchant Navy at the end of WWII) has become involved with the Lancastria Association. We visited the monuments at St-Naz and the Operation Chariot sites also.
    I gather there are some Lancastria artefacts in your galleries. Can you direct me to the Lancastria plaque pictured on your website at ‘Liverpool Pier Head’? I am in town on university business until Weds afternoon and will visit your museum that morning.

    • Jen says:

      Hello Jon,

      You can find the Lancastria plaque to the right of the new Museum of Liverpool (looking in the direction of the river) at the pierhead. There is a raised section close to the river with a number of different commemorative plaques on it, it’s not far from the ferry terminal building. The artifacts on gallery are on the first floor at the far end of our ‘Life at Sea’ gallery. I hope you enjoy your time in Liverpool.


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