We will remember them

Fanny Trott

My cousin is researching the Trott family tree and, as part of the investigation we received the following information from our 84 year old aunt about one of her many aunts:

Our great aunt – Fanny Gladys Trott was born on the 18th February 1897 at Boston in Lincolnshire

She worked at Fisher Clarkes as a clerical assistant before joining the Church Army. Around 1922 we know that she was in the Church Army and based at Merthyr Tydfil.

During the war she ended up in France and in 1940, on the eve of Dunkerque (I don’t know the precise date — can anyone help with this?), she was told that she had to go to St Naziare There she boarded the Lancastria, along with hoards of servicemen. In the evening it was very stuffy below, so she went up on deck for some air. She saw a German aeroplane flying overhead and watched it drop two bombs. The first one missed the ship but the second went down the ship’s funnel. Chaos ensued!

Lifeboats were manned, but there were too few as the ship was seriously overcrowded. Some people in the boats had lifebelts on but they took them off and passed them to those in the water. People were jumping from the deck of the ship into the already very full lifeboats below — Auntie’s legs were later found to be very badly bruised from servicemen landing on her.

There were hundreds of troops on the lower decks who had absolutely no chance of survival and went down with the ship.

Survivors were eventually picked up by a French destroyer, but the vessel fouled a propeller in the wreckage and ‘limped’ to England on one propeller. Many of these survivors rescued from the water were covered in oil and there were only two Church Army sisters to clean them up — great aunt and her colleague.

After ‘survivors leave’ she went out to the Middle East — we know she visited Bethlehem and Jerusalem — where she finished out the war in catering. This is quite ironic as my Aunt tells me that her Aunt was a hopeless cook! I know that for some of the time she was based at Port Tewfik.

The following correspondence refers to her work in the Middle East:

Message dated 5 April 1944 from Captain C J Hill, Royal Signals, address Rokas c/o APO 4685 – to Captain Casey (Church Army Commissioner ME)

“I and several of my brother officers have had occasions lately to use fairly frequently your “Pig and Whistle” club at Port Tewfik. We wish to express our very sincere appreciation of the organisation which makes such amenities possible — but more particularly of the unfailing kindness and consideration of the two ladies in charge. No matter how large the crowd and inadequate their facilities they always managed to provide a meal and a cheerful word to go with it. We are agreed that the only adequate word to describe the ladies of the “Pig and Whistle” is angels — of tact, forbearance and kindliness. And should the decorations for service be rendered abroad have been in our hands these ladies would not have gone unhonoured.”

Captain Casey adds: “It is a fine tribute to a fine piece of work — well done the ladies!”

Great aunt really was an amazing lady – barely 4ft 10in tall – she really was a little lady with a big heart!

Great aunt received a number of medals for her war service, including the African Star and we know that she attended some of the Lancastria survivors’ reunions from time to time because we have the programmes.

After the war she worked for the Church Army in Norwich and Brighton. Following her retirement she resided at Church Army Homes. She lived in Bushey at Greenwood Close Church Army Flats and finally moved to Hollybush House, Southgate, where she died in 1986

I would very much like to hear from anyone who can tell me anything about the ‘Pig and Whistle’ e.g. what it was, what it was like and, especially, its location. I’m guessing that it may have been somewhere in what is now Oman — but where?

Leni