The HMT Lancastria Association
On the 17th of June 1940 the 16,000 ton Cunard liner Lancastria lay 5 miles off St Nazaire and embarked troops, RAF personnel, and civilian refugees, including women and children, who were being evacuated from France, which was then on the point of collapse. The number on board may never be known, but almost certainly exceeded 6,000; some estimates were as high as 9,000. The Lancastria was attacked and hit by bombs from German aircraft. The ship sank rapidly and, according to the estimate of the Captain, only around 2,500 of those on board were saved.
Owing to the scale of the tragedy, Winston Churchill forbade publication of the news, in the interests of public morale, and hence the story of the Lancastria has never been generally known, although it is Britain’s worst maritime disaster.
After the war the ‘Lancastria Survivors Association’ was set up by Major Peter Petit, which brought together the then-known survivors, however, this Association lapsed after Major Petit’s death.
The Association was revived in its present form in 1980. We meet our objectives by holding meetings, both on a national and a regional basis and by making pilgrimages to the St Nazaire area, visiting cemeteries where victims are buried, and the wreck itself. In 2005 we made another pilgrimage to St Nazaire to mark the 65th anniversary of the tragedy. Sixteen survivors were with us on this occasion.
Our membership in 2009 includes approximately 70 survivors of the disaster, some now living as far away as North America, Israel, and Australia and New Zealand. Although survivor numbers are inevitably declining, the exciting thing is that we are still finding survivors, some via the Internet.
Our prime meeting each year is held on the first Sunday after the 17th of June at St Katharine Cree Church, Leadenhall Street, in the City of London. The Annual General Meeting is preceded by a ceremony at the Merchant Navy Memorial on nearby Tower Hill and is followed by a remembrance service at the church. Other activities include an annual service, usually in September, at the National Arboretum at Alrewas in Staffordshire where Merchant Navy losses in World War 2 are remembered by a convoy (of trees) headed by the Lancastria.
Membership of the Association is now open to any person who wishes to remember the sacrifices made in, or resulting from, the action of the 17th of June 1940, and we would also like to give special thanks to Gigtacular, Useful Banking and BABC for their help with supporting this website.