Remembering HMT Lancastria

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This Sunday a Radio 4 documentary, The Sinking of the Lancastria, will highlight the 70th anniversary of Britain's worst ever maritime disaster. The anniversary was also featured in the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning with interviews with some of the survivors who had gone to lay wreaths at the site of the sinking. It's worth taking a few minutes to listen again on the BBC website if you missed that.

Curator of maritime collections Ellie Moffat explains more about the tragedy:


old writch watch

Wrist watch owned by HMT Lancastria survivor Sidney H Dunmall. On display in Merseyside Maritime Museum, accession number MMM 1998.145.4

"On the declaration of war in 1939, Cunard passenger liner Lancastria was requisitioned for troop carrying. On 17 June 1940 Lancastria was anchored off the coast of France, taking on board retreating British troops. She was taking part in Operation Ariel, the evacuation of British nationals and troops, two weeks after Dunkirk.

There were on board in excess of 5000 troops, as well as civilians and crew when Lancastria suffered heavy air attack. In what Winston Churchill described as "the most terrible disaster in our naval history," many thousands of lives were lost.

Merseyside Maritime Museum's 'Life at Sea' gallery on the first floor includes a display featuring Lancastria, as well as other merchant vessels usedto support military operations.

Amongst the objects on display is a wrist watch worn by Sidney H Dunmall, of the Royal Army Pay Corps, a survivor who leapt in to the sea to escape the sinking ship. It was donated to the museum by the HMT Lancastria Association.

Other items include a lunch menu dated 17 June 1940, a discharge book of Gerrard Walsh who was assistant butcher on board, and two miniature trophies owned by survivors Arthur Pownall and Corporal Bray of the Royal Engineers."