Monday, June 19, 2006

 

Protection for HMT Lancastria Welcomed 66 Years after Sinking

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Royal Navy
June 19, 2006


The French Government’s decision to offer new legal protection to the final resting place of over 3,000 British servicemen who died when the HMT Lancastria was sunk in World War Two has today been welcomed by Veterans Minister Tom Watson.

The requisitioned Cunard liner was lending support to the war effort, helping to rescue members of the British Expeditionary Force from France, when she was attacked by enemy aircraft off St. Nazaire on 17 June 1940.

At the time she was carrying several thousand troops, RAF personnel and civilian refugees, who were being evacuated from France. The ship sank rapidly with heavy loss of life. So grievous was the disaster that news of the Lancastria's sinking was initially suppressed by the wartime Cabinet, fearful of the effect on the nation's morale.

Mr Watson said:

“The sinking of the HMT Lancastria was a national tragedy which resulted in thousands of men, women and children losing their lives. To recognise this we have been working closely with the French Government to establish new legal protections for the final resting place of these brave souls.

“Survivors, relatives and members of the Lancastria Association brought to our attention that diving on the wreck was proving intrusive and potentially damaging. I would like to thank them for this. However, as she lies in French territorial waters we had no legal powers available to us to protect the wreck.

“We immediately discussed our concerns with the French authorities and asked for their help preventing this. I am delighted they have responded so positively and that divers are no longer allowed to come in contact with the wreck. This will do much to preserve the sanctity of the ship’s remains and illustrates the importance both Governments attach to the protection of war graves, such as the HMT Lancastria.”

Personnel who served on the HMT Lancastria will be honoured, among others, when the first annual Veterans Day is held on 27 June.


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