Tragedy of the HMT “Lancastria” (1940). Commemoration at Saint-Nazaire June 17th
Survivors, English and Scottish delegations will be present. Tri Yann, the well-known group of Breton musicians from Nantes, will sing the gwerz they have composed about the sinking of the troopship Lancastria.
This tragedy, which unites Great and Small Britain (Brittany), also brings us back towards the Celtic legends with the reappearance of the bell of the Lancastria in June 2005.
The bell of the steam ship Lancastria : Just like a Breton legend
June 2005, Pornichet – Brittany
Sixty five years after the wreck of the ship, the bell of the Lancastria reappears in the early morning on the steps of the British war cemetery of Pornichet (3).
The Lancastria was sunk on June 17th 1940, off Saint-Nazaire, with more than 6000 passengers on board. Her bell was discovered on Thursday June 16th 2005 in the Pornichet war cemetery, when a British delegation was gathering to commemorate the event.
The bell had never been seen again before, in spite of persistent rumours about its recovery. It still bears the old name of the Cunard liner : Tyrrhenia. It had been placed on the steps of the cemetery by an anonymous person who left a note explaining he had hauled it out of the wreckage thirty years ago. In his note, the author explained he intends to offer it to HMT Lancastria Association.
The [RMS Lancastria] had been built on the Clyde in Scotland and hastily converted into a troop ship in 1940, in order to evacuate the thousands of soldiers fleeing before the German troops. On June 15th 1940, the liner sailed from Plymouth with orders to go to Saint-Nazaire. On early morning June 17th she anchored in the Loire estuary. The embarkation started right away.
With over 6.000 British soldiers and civilians, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, Poles and Belgians on board, the liner was leaving Saint-Nazaire on June 17th 1940. At around 2 pm an attack there, by an air raid of Junkers J 88, killed thousands of people. While the Luftwaffe kept firing over the Loire estuary, about 2.500 survivors were saved by the British Navy and by Saint-Nazaire inhabitants who were deeply shocked by the tragedy.
Churchill imposed complete silence over the sinking of the Lancastria because of the war. Silence endured for as long as sixty years, when, in 2000, survivors of the catastrophy, their descendants as well as historians, decided to commemorate and collect records and evidence about the tragedy.
Bretons who have for years commemorated the Lancastria tragedy, together with the last survivors, particularly appreciated the gratitude expressed by the Scottish Parliament, on May 10th 2005. One must know that Scottish soldiers were particularly numerous among the victims, because of their great number in the British expeditionary Corps. The survivors and their families are forever thankful for the faithful memory of the Nazairians who still bear in their hearts all the victims of the Lancastria.
Chairman of the Center for Research & Diffusion of Breton Identity
(1) HMT Lancastria : Her Majesty's Transport
(2) A gwerz is a Breton lament ; the song Lancastria is from Tri Yann's new CD album "Abysses", 2007.
(3) : Pornichet is the town close to Saint-Nazaire, between La Baule and Saint-Nazaire, the three of them standing along the Loire estuary.
In Scotland :
The annual Memorial service has been held on Saturday 14th June at 1.00 pm, in St George's Church, West Edinburgh.
(voir le site) the Scottish website of the Lancastria.
(voir le site) , the Breton website of the "Lancastria", created at Saint-Nazaire by Captain Yves Beaujuge (in French).
(voir le site) , la page avec les photos de la cérémonie de 2007 à Saint-Nazaire.
Photo : The HMT Lancastria memorial in Saint-Nazaire.
English text engraved :
" HMT "Lancastria". Opposite this place lies the wreck of the troopship "Lancastria" sunk by enemy action on the 17th June 1940 whilst embarking British troops and civilians during the evacuation from France. To the glory of God. In proud memory of more than 4.000 who died, and in commemoration of the selfless devotion of the people of Saint Nazaire and surrounding districts who saved many lives, tended wounded and gave a Christian burial to victims. We have not forgotten. " The HMT "Lancastria" Association. 17th June 1988.
French text :
" HMT "Lancastria". Devant ce lieu repose l'épave du transporteur de troupe "Lancastria" coulé par l'ennemi le 17 juin 1940 alors qu'il procédait à l'embarquement des troupes britanniques et civiles lors de leur évacuation. À la gloire de Dieu. À la mémoire de plus de 4.000 personnes qui ont trouvé la mort, et en commémoration du dévouement désintéressé de la population de Saint Nazaire et des communes avoisinantes qui a sauvé de nombreuses vies, assisté les blessés et organisé des funérailles chrétiennes aux victimes. Nous n'avons pas oublié ! " The HMT "Lancastria" Association. 17 juin 1988.