An international petition has been launched by the Lancastria Archive which aims to bring about official legal designation of the wreck of the Lancastria by the UK Government. The sinking of the Lancastria in June 1940 was the worst disaster in British maritime history and claimed over 4000 lives, twice the combined number lost on Titanic and the Lusitania. Members of the Association from across the UK, France, Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand have begun gathering signatures demanding that the UK Government reverse 66 years of official silence and proceed with formal designation of the wreck under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.
Previously the British Government has argued publicly that Lancastria could not be designated under the Act because the wreck lies in French territorial waters, but campaigners have now obtained email communications between the Royal Navy and Government legal officials which show Lancastria could be designated under the Act. Mark Hirst (37) whose grandfather Walter survived the sinking on 17th June 1940 said:
“The documents we have obtained under Freedom of Information and after some considerable resistance on the part of the MoD clearly show that Lancastria could indeed be designated under the Act. In fact the email we have obtained between senior officials at the Royal Navy and MoD legal staff suggests that not only could Lancastria be designated but so too could every other British vessel lying in foreign territorial waters.”
Mr Hirst added: “The Veterans Minister has told us that Lancastria is a ‘prima facia’ case for designation under the Act, but to do so would be ‘purely symbolic’.
“Some in the MoD will no doubt continue to say our campaign and this petition are purely symbolic gestures. Some others could argue the same for the 200th Trafalgar celebrations which took place last year, or the pardoning of long since dead veterans of the First World War which happened only last week.
“The sinking of the Lancastria is the worst maritime disaster in British history, the worst single loss of life for British troops in the whole of the Second World War and a sacrifice which consecutive Governments from 1940 onwards have tried to keep quiet.
“The petition we have launched this week will garner signatures from across the world and calls on the British Government to match the commitment made earlier this year by the French Government who provided additional legal protection for the site. The petition calls on the UK Government to use the powers it has to legally and finally declare Lancastria an official maritime war grave.
“The only formal recognition most relatives of victims have is a telegram notifying them that their brother, son, husband or father had been lost in action aboard Lancastria, and for many that news did not come until years after the event. Our Association is committed to campaigning for the formal legal recognition that these men deserve and which should have been granted automatically decades ago.”
The Association aim to have the completed petition handed over to Downing Street later in the year. To order petition forms visit the Lancastria Archive website at www.lancastria.org.uk