After the war the Lancastria Survivors Association was set up by Major Peter Petit, which brought together the then-known survivors. Each year, at the anniversary of the sinking, the members held a reunion, a parade, and a service of remembrance.
In 1955 the first Pilgrimage to St Nazaire was held. A group flew from Southampton, circled the wreck site before landing in the Loire estuary. They were taken ashore and were met by H M Consul; a service was held near the Commando Memorial, attended by French government officers, senior officers of the French services and members of the French parliament.
In 1963, after the annual parade in the City of London, a memorial window was unveiled by the Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Fraser of North Cape, in St Katharine Cree Church, ‘The Sailors’ Church’.
Major Petit died in 1969 and the Association lapsed. It was revived in 1981 as The HMT Lancastria Association, largely on the initiative its first President, Brian Reynolds. Membership was extended so that survivors’ relatives could join. Subsequently membership has been broadened further so it is open to ‘any person who wishes to remember the sacrifices made on, or as a result of, the action of the 17th June 1940’.
The purpose of our Association is to remember and honour all those who were present or who lost their lives in the Lancastria disaster. We meet our objectives by holding meetings and services, 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.
Our last major pilgrimage to St Nazaire was in 2005 to mark the 65th anniversary of the tragedy. Sixteen survivors were with us on this occasion. In each of the subsequent years there have been meetings in St Nazaire, participants making their own travel arrangements, with a memorial service, strongly supported by the French authorities and services. It is hoped that there will be another formal pilgrimage in 2010, but, at the moment, this is proving difficult to organise.
Our membership now includes approximately 75 survivors of the disaster, some now living as far away as North America, Australia, and New Zealand. Although survivor numbers are inevitably declining, the exciting thing is that we are still finding survivors, some via the Internet.