I had originally intended to include an interview with one of the founders of the Lancastria Association. However, after my parents sent me pictures of my grandfather, Arthur Rogers, who was present at the sinking of the HMT Lancastria, I had a change of heart. I’ll include that interview in a fourth post about the ship.
My grandfather was born and brought up in Birkenhead in Merseyside (North West England) although his family originated from North Wales. He later moved to Camborne in Cornwall. I was 5 when he died, so much of his experiences in the army he wouldn’t have recounted to a young lad at a tender age. I can always remember being inquisitive about the Second World War as a child. I was obsessed with the scale of it and the quantity of people who died. I didn’t understand death. One day you’re here and the next you’re not. What happens you? Where does your body go? Your soul? Quite profound for a child, when I think about it. But then I’d quickly return to whatever toy or muse I had at the time.
I remember my grandfather being a serious man, strict, with not a ton of patience. You can imagine how tedious it must have been for him listening to thousands of questions from a child who was ever so curious about life and death. I remember being wary of him, and him telling me to eat up everything on my plate during dinner before returning to watch TV. Somewhere in the photo albums of me as a baby (it was one of the first things my wife asked to see when she first entered my house in Birmingham. My mother was all too happy to present them), there is one of my good self, blond haired, smiling with my half my thumb in my mouth mouth, sitting upon his knee, also smiling. We weren’t taking any notice of the camera. His smile was genuine, happy, so please don’t think he was always serious. He was also generous and kind, buying us tiny toy soldiers and knights and horses. My brother and I had a slightly inaccurate idea of time, having a medeival castle heavily fortified by WW2 soldiers. But that’s a child’s imagination for you. It holds few boundries.
My grandmother, Betty Rogers, told us how my grandfather suffered for years with post traumatic stress because of what he witnessed at war, as well as immediately after it, when he returned to find that his first wife had died, but that’s a story to tell at a different time.
Arthur Rogers in civvy clothes before WW2
He spent the majority of the war abroad. At the beginning he was apparently he was in the British Expeditionary Forces (BEF), although I’m unsure where or how he ended up fighting or how he ended up in Sainte-Nazaire. He was later in the Royal Air Force (RAF), situated in Gibraltar, North Africa and the later in Italy. I don’t know the squadron as such. I’m sure I was told by my grandmother before she died in 2002, although the details are hazy. However, I do have the below photo of my grandfather showing King George VI the guns in the fields in France just before the war.
King George VI on the right
To those not familiar with WW2 history or military jargon, the BEF was the name of the British Army in Western Europe from 1939 to 1940, 10% of which consisted of soldiers in other countries that formed part of the Allies. It was actually formed in 1938 in readiness for the war. It moved into France in September 1939 and spent much of the phoney war digging field defences on the French–Belgian border, before the Battle of France began in May 1940. However, with Nazi Germany in full flow, the BEF retreated to Dunkirk and other corners of France to escape the onslaught. The BEF was disbanded in 1940, after the evacuation, otherwise known as Operation Dynamo.
Arthur Rogers in RAF uniform.
Obviously, learning about your family is fascinating and it’s to my shame that during my youth I didn’t concentrate more to my grandfather’s war experiences while I had the chance. We now live in a period of fast information where we’re easily distracted, glued to our mobile phones and/or social media (what my grandparents would have thought of these anti-social devices I dread to think, but in fairness, my grandmother did demand silence while she watched the QVC shopping channel; one of her favourite muses), but it’s interesting to dive back into the past and recount how we came to have such liberties today. I don’t particularly agree with war, and I think we humans rarely learn from past horrors. But one should bow to a man who has risked his life for his country and his family’s future. No one knows what might have happened had the Nazi’s won that war.
In terms of the Lancastria, I only know that he was in line to embark on to the ship. The line was apparently a couple of miles long. It was cut short a few people before him, according to my grandmother. That’s all I know. He saw friends and comrades die before him. It makes you think of your own existence.
My grandfather died in 1985 from lung cancer. However, I send to him a personal and spiritual bow.
And oh yes, thanks for the toy soldiers!