We will remember them

Alexander Lomax

War hero remembered – 67 years after his death

A victim of Britain’s worst maritime disaster has been remembered on his home-town war memorial – more than 67 years after his death.

Private Alexander Lomax, 21, died when the SS Lancastria troopship was sunk by German bombers off St Nazaire on June 17, 1940.

An estimated 5,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen fleeing the advancing German army lost their lives in the disaster, which was kept secret by Prime Minister Winston Churchill who feared it would have a devastating impact on the nation’s morale.

As the ship keeled over, those facing death sang Roll Out The Barrel and There’ll Always Be An England at the tops of their voices.

Now, just days before Remembrance Sunday, the name of Pte Lomax has been inscribed on the war memorial in Chapel Road, Worthing.

Worthing Borough Council arranged for this to be done after being contacted by Pte Lomax’s cousin, Ron Battell, 81, of Barrington Road, Worthing.

Mr Battell, who served in the Royal Engineers during the Second World War, was unsure why his name had been left off.

He said: “I was looking at the names on the memorial a year ago and thought my cousin is not on there, so I contacted the Town Hall and they sorted it for me, which was good of them.”

Pte Lomax, whose parents Albert Frederick and Ada Louise lived in Market Street, Worthing, was an only child who joined the Royal East Kent Regiment, also known as The Buffs.

The regiment was posted to France but found itself trapped on the coast by advancing German troops.

In a desperate bid to escape, thousands of soldiers boarded the Lancastria which sank in just 20 minutes after being hit by enemy bombs.

One survivor, a Welshman called Henry Harding, later described seeing thousands of men clinging desperately to the hull.

He said: “I remember there were thousands of voices singing ‘Roll Out The Barrel’ and ‘There’ll Always Be An England’, and for years afterwards I could not stand the sound of those two songs.

“I was turned around in the water and the next that I saw, nothing. Thousands had gone to a watery grave and I will always remember it, I can’t ever forget it.”

Nobody knows exactly how many were aboard, but estimates range from 7,000 to 9,000.

The 2,447 survivors were ordered not to divulge details of the disaster to anybody.

Bodies were being washed up on French beaches for months afterwards.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission said Pte Lomax was buried in the village of Clion-sur-Mer, about 4km east of the small town and fishing port of Pornic.

Mr Battell, who was living in London during the war, recalled meeting Pte Lomax several times on visits to Worthing.

He even slept in Pte Lomax’s bed when his cousin was away at summer camp with the Territorial Army.

Mr Battell, who went on to serve in Egypt, Palestine and East Africa, remembered him as being “very nice”.

4:12pm Monday 5th November 2007.