Saturday, June 13, 2015

RMS Lancastria

There's a story about RMS Lancastria on the BBC site today; it's a tragic story of a ship sent to rescue British soldiers from Northern France a few weeks after the Dunkirk evacuation. Unfortunately the ship was hit by German dive bombers just outside the port of Saint-Nazaire and sunk, estimates vary but at least 4,000 men, women and children died that day, perhaps as many as 7,000 it was certainly the largest loss of life in British maritime history but it is largely unknown. It was hushed up by Churchill and reports of the disaster were censored, the politicians of the day felt that such bad news coming straight after Dunkirk would be cripplingly bad for the moral of the nation, so no one knew.

The story has a highly personal element for me; my Grandfather was one of the soldiers escaping from France and was on that ship. He went into the water along with thousands of other people and luckily for us both managed to survive (barring minor burns on his feet) the oily water, the fires and the strafing of German machine guns. He was picked up by the Navy and returned to Plymouth. The spooky thing is that the family knew very little about his story (he never talked about it much); but a few years after his death a book was released that featured a couple of photographs of the incident (there are only a two dozen in existence). My Mother bought the book out of interest and low and behold there he was, plain as day, my Granddad covered in oil with a white blanket over his shoulders, he's in the picture above, the fifth head from the left in the back row.

It's amazing to think of the unbroken chain of lucky escapes over thousands of years, hundreds of wars, plagues and disasters that link us to our ancestors and by virtue of pure luck mean that we exist at all; I guess someone has to.

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