The following account was written by Heathall (Dumfries) man Robert Jardine, who survived the sinking of the Lancastria on 17th June 1940. Mr Jardine, who was a Private in the RAOC at the time and had enlisted in Lockerbie and wrote the following letter to his mum and dad from the Royal Naval Hospital in Plymouth just 2 days after the sinking. Mr Jardine, who had worked in banking, was a bank manager in Kelso (Scottish Borders) in the 1960s and but had lived in Berwick and Larbert. Tragically however he took his own life in Kelso in 1968 aged just 49 having suffered from long term depression.
“Pte R Jardine (7595301)
RAOC, Ward D3, Royal Naval Hospital Plymouth, 19th June 1940
Dear Mum and Dad,
By now you will be wondering what part of the globe I am. Well as you will see they have made a sailor of me for a day anyway.
I was on the troopship which unfortunately got sunk off St. Nazaire on June 17th. We had all embarked ready to move off when Jerry plane came over and started pasting us. He hit us with a couple, one going through No. 2 Hold and probably knocked the bottom out of it. Jack, Ron, Doug and I were within a couple of yards of the hold but lucky for us we were lying on the deck with our tin hats on. My tin hat was blown clean off and I got the blast over the right side of my face and arms. After a few moments I came to and discovered the lads were OK and we made up our minds to make a swim for it. The boat then began to keel over but we kept moving from side to side to help her even. I was in the bow and in the mash lost the lads. I was surprised how cool I kept as in a previous bombing raid I was honestly frightened. Anyway the water began to rise so I slipped off my pants forgetting my wallet but had to leave it.
Over I went smash into the water. I came up OK and then began to feel where I had been scorched as the salt water went for me. I kept up a nice steady pace swimming on my back to relieve my arms which as I told you were scorched. I kept on making for a small boat, a minesweeper which I made after about forty minutes. I thought a couple of lengths of the cauld was my bat, but I seemed to have superhuman strength. I got on the minesweeper and found the lads OK.
Doug, like me suffering from burns and Jack internally. He got blown up in the air and landed on something. From the minesweeper we were transferred onto an ammunition boat and brought here (26 hours). We were doctored by an officer who knew a little about the job. Now as you will see I am having the best of attention and food. I am getting on OK and can walk around a bit. My right eye is sore a little but not injured in any way.
Needless to say I lost everything except a shirt in which I swam. Thus I am on the cadge for a little money. (I lost over a £1) but fortunately let the army keep my credits. I don’t know when I shall be able to get any so as you see we are out of touch with the army at present.
For the last six weeks or so I have had few letters from you as we were always on the move. When at all possible I wrote but that too was not very frequently.
Well folks don’t worry as I am fighting fit and will soon be discharged.
Give my love to all and god bless.
Your loving son,
PS Send the reply by register and remember to put senders name in case I get a move. RJ