The origin of much of the content in the previous Lancastria articles derive from secondary sources, either from the internet, my parents or memories of what my grandmother told me. However, I also called upon the Lancastria Survivors Association, and received considerable assistance from one of its founders Alan Davis.
Instead of recounting bits and pieces, I’ll include the email word for word as he sent it, regarding the HMT Lancastria tragedy, as well as my questions original questions.
Why did the British government cover up the disaster?
The reason Churchill placed a D notice on the Lancastria disaster was a matter of morale. This was both for the armed forces and the general population as the withdrawal from Dunkirk was such a low point. Churchill was concerned that this news would have been devastating to the UK. My father wrote to his mother to let her know he was safe in the UK and would be home on leave shortly. He could not tell her what had happened nor where he was or that he was receiving medical attention with the rest of the survivors. Then as things picked up the D notice was forgoten and I beleive has never been lifted. However, this did not prevent the American press reporting the disaster in their papers and radio. Then the British papers reported on the tragedy. Because now so much time has elapsed it does look more like a cover up. But it is generally beleived that Churchill intended to lift the D Notice but as the allies were making more positive progress in the war it was forgotten.
Why was there such a delay to building a monument to recognize the tragedy?
I think it was two years ago that the chancellor of the exchequer made a statement in the commons recognising the disaster but the only monuments in recognition of the disaster is a Lancastria Memorial Window, St Katherine Cree Church, London. There is a memorial at the National Arboretum and another in Glasgow where the Lancastria was built. But nothing official from the British government.
What inspired you to set up a group about the Lancastria? Did you have any family relations who died in the disaster?
My father did a lot to try and get some recognition for survivors but to no avail. He was in the Buffs East Kent Regiment and was lucky to be saved along with two of his mates. So my intention was at least to have my own memorial even though it is just on facebook. I have also had a badge made based on the Lancastria Survivors Association blazer badge. The intention was to provide those family members who had missed out on the medal provided by the Scottish parliament, to have something they could wear in memory.
How was the tragedy viewed in France at the time and how about now?
The French have always been proactive in remembering the Lancastria they have a large memorial at St. Nazaire and each year they hold services in remembrance. It was because the people of St Nazaire helped rescue survivors and collected and buried the dead washed up on the beaches.
How was the tragedy reported in Germany?
I really have no idea if Germany recogises the sinking in any way, sorry.
If you would like more information about the disaster, visit the Lancastria Survivors Association website. There are also numerous books about what happened. Unfortunately I’ve not read any of them to give you my thoughts on them. However, one that seems to have received a few good reviews seems to be “The Sinking of the Lancastria” by Jonathan Fenby.