Friday, 30 September 2011

Memorial honours Lancastria victims

From the Press Association

A memorial dedicated to victims of the worst maritime disaster in British history is to be unveiled.

HMT Lancastria, which was built on the River Clyde, was attacked by a German bomber more than 71 years ago - on June 17, 1940 - receiving three direct hits.

It sank off the coast of France at St Nazaire in less than 20 minutes, taking up to 6,500 people with it, making it the largest single loss of life for British forces throughout the whole of the Second World War.

More people were killed than when the Titanic sank in 1912, and more than double the number of victims in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond will unveil the memorial on Saturday on the banks of the Clyde, at the site of what was the William Beardmore shipbuilding yard where HMT Lancastria was built.

The memorial is a bronze sculpture, set on a granite block with a commemorative text, and was created by Fife artist Marion Smith. The bronze represents the early steel sheet construction of the Lancastria.

Jacqueline Tanner, 73, from Worcester, who is the youngest known survivor of the disaster, will attend the unveiling. She was just two years old when the ship sank, and her parents are said to have held her up out of the water for more than two hours before they were rescued. Mrs Tanner, formerly Jacqueline Tillyer, had to be revived and still has the sailor's jersey in which she was wrapped by her rescuer.

Mark Hirst, whose grandfather Walter Hirst, from Dundee, survived the disaster when he was 25, is the founder of the Lancastria Association and secured the site for the memorial. Walter Hirst was a Sapper with 663 Company, The Royal Engineers. About one-third, or 91, of the men in his company died when the Lancastria sank.

His grandson, 42, from Jedburgh in the Borders, said: "The memorial to the victims of the Lancastria is a fitting and lasting tribute to the thousands who died in what remains Britain's worst ever maritime disaster. Their sacrifice was ignored for decades because successive British governments refused to formally acknowledge the loss of the Lancastria for propaganda reasons.

"The site on which the new memorial stands is where the Lancastria was constructed in 1920 and where this once great liner came to life. The unveiling of this memorial brings the story full circle and I am certain it will be a place of pilgrimage and remembrance in the years to come."

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