Part two comes at an interesting time, a couple of days after the Golden Globes 2018, which saw Gary Oldman winning the award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in the movie Darkest Hour; which I’m yet to see. Apparently it’s about the early stages of the war, around Dunkirk when it looked as though Britain were going to strike a peace deal with the Nazis.
The link is very obvious, with the darkest hour analogy very much extending two weeks after Dunkirk to when the HMT Lancastria was sunk off the north west coast of France in Sainte-Nazaire. The Lancastria was originally used to evacuate soldiers and embassy personnel, amongst others as German forces came in droves across France to kill off any Allies left in mainland Europe.
However, whereas Dunkirk was made painted as an act of bravery in the mass media for reasons of propaganda, there was no positive narrative that could be spun from the Lancastria. To save the country from a drop of morale, the British government placed a D-Notice regarding the tragedy, meaning it suppressed the news in the UK press. However, it didn’t stop foreign press of hearing about it, which then filtered into the British press, almost five weeks after it happened.
Fatalities are estimated around 4,000, although some figures claim up to 9,000, including women and children. However, the British government accepts that only 1,700 died, just 200 more than Titanic. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) had initially planned to release information about the disaster in 2040, 100 years after, which it is legally obligated to do so. After much campaigning from various Lancastria societies to get the MoD to disclose more information and get the government to formally commemorate those who died (which it did finally in 2015), the MoD claimed it has published all its information in the national archives. In further controversy, in 2008 the Scottish government commissioned a medal to honour to survivors and descendants of those who perished, although the British government has remained silent. Furthermore, it refuses to make the site a war grave as it is in foreign territorial waters, even though other war graves have been recorded in foreign waters, such as the Battle of Jutland.
However, the French government have marked the area off where the Lancastria sank. People in St Nazaire have also commemorated the people who died, every year since the anniversary. This certainly goes against the common belief in sections of the UK press about the French being anti-English. Another disaparaging belief about the French in the English press that can be dispelled from both St Nazaire and Dunkirk is about cowardice. Had it not been for French bravery, many more Brits could have died.
Memorial of HMT Lancastria in Saint Nazaire.
My grandmother’s account of what happened to my grandfather is hazy. He died in 1985 and she died in 2002. How my grandfather felt about seeing his friends who perished not properly commemorated up until the day he died by the government he fought for, I guess I’ll never know. He may well of understood why at the time. Who knows.
I’m glad to have had it recorded on my blog though.
There is a third part to this series of updates, which includes the account the son of a survivor, who helped fill me in with some of what happened on 17th June 1940.