We will remember them

Survivor Accounts

Survivor Extracts

“First she rolled over on her starboard side, then righted herself, then listed to her port side causing us all to slip and slide down the deck”
Denis Holland, Royal Army Pay Corps

“Then the smoke drifted and parted and we saw the most terrible sight the Lancastria could offer; the mess of blood and oil and splintered woodwork that littered the deck and the furious white core of water that came roaring from the bottom of the ship in Number 4 hold. I took the megaphone, hearing my voice booming out strangely over the dying ship ‘Clear away the boats now… Your attention please… Clear away the boats now.’ The Lancastria quaked under my feet, a last gesture of farewell.”
Chief Officer Harry Grattidge, Lancastria’s second in command.

“She was going down fast. Her bunker oil was released and spreading all over the water. We couldn’t escape it. At the same time the b*****ds were machine gunning us in the water and dropping incendiaries to try to set fire to the floating oil.” – Michael Sheehan



Michael Sheehan, Crewman (Helmsman) of the Lancastria in La Boule 2005

“Fully clothed I went into the oily sea. I dog paddled for some time, then came upon a overturned boat with two survivors hanging on. I joined them as more people tried to get aboard. We were tipped back into the oily sea. As one went under you could see the legs of other survivors thrashing up and down.”
Jimmy Skeels, 663 Artisan Works Company, Royal Engineers

“Luckily it was a warm afternoon with a calm sea, but all of us swimming around were gradually engulfed by a tide of diesel oil. After a long time, when hope of rescue was fading, a fleet of small launches manned by French crews from the port appeared and dragged us on board. There were two P&O liners in the bay, the Strathaird and Strathnaver I think. The launches took us to both in turn.” – A. G. Bradford, Transportation Finance Unit, RE

“There were 5 of us standing together with lifebelts and the first 4 jumped from the deck in front of me wearing their belts. But as I looked over to see how they had done I saw that they appeared to be unconscious or dead. The lifebelts had risen up as they entered the water and broken their necks. I decided then to throw my lifebelt into the sea and jumped in after it.”
Cyril Cumbes, 663 Artisan Works Company, Royal Engineers

“Swimming was difficult because of so many troops already in the water – many of them fully clothed and many with packs still on their backs and grabbing at anyone who was seen to be swimming. I regret to say that on two occasions when groups tried to grab me I dived under to avoid their clutches. I’m sorry.” – Ken Belsham, RAPC

“It was a massive explosion which hit the Lancastria. There was panic and chaos. Two soldiers at either end of the ship began to open up with Bren guns on the attacking enemy aircraft. After entering the water a seemingly crazed man tried to remove my lifejacket, but I managed to fight him off. I was in the water for around 2 hours before being picked up. At one point a large Labrador dog swam past which I later discovered belonged to some Belgian refugee children who did not survive the sinking.”
Walter Hirst, 663 Artisan Works Company, Royal Engineers

“I was on G deck, in the hold, when the bomb struck. It blew me across the room. When I pulled myself together I got across to what was the companionway, now a few spars and somehow managed to climb to the next deck which was above water level. With one or two others I escaped through a porthole and dropped into the water. The scene around was panic.”
Kenneth Clowes, Royal Army Ordinance Corps

“I watched a stick of bombs coming down; the first of these I watched enter the water on the Starboard side and believe it or not I cannot remember if I heard a bang or not. When I began to take stock of things I realised that the hatch cover on Number 2 hold was gone and it could only have gone upwards. Can you imagine a hatch cover the size of the average sitting room exploding upwards like that and me sitting there without a scratch. There was however a body 20 feet away minus the head.”
Percy Brown, 663 Artisan Works Company, Royal Engineers

“I was on the very top deck of the ship and it was packed. When the bombs hit I suffered a blow to the head. I passed out a few times and when I came round there was nobody nearby. There was a huge hole in the deck. It was not a pretty sight. Somehow I managed to get onto a rescue boat and was taken finally to Plymouth.”
Charles Napier, 663 Artisan Works Company, Royal Engineers (Charlie, the last living Scottish survivor passed away March 2011)

“I was standing quite near to, I think, a Lewis machine gun which was firing at German Bombers now circling overhead. The ship itself was being machine gunned. I don’t know how many bombs dropped but I vividly remember one tremendous explosion and huge sheets of flame leaping up from an open hatch. I can’t remember whether an order to abandon ship was given but it was immediately obvious that we would have to get away as quickly as possible.” – Major John Adams, RASC

“I was on G Deck, in the hold, when the bomb struck. It blew me across the room. When I pulled myself together I got across to what was the companionway, now a few spars, and somehow climbed to the next deck which was above the water level. With one or two others I climbed through a porthole and dropped into the water.” –Kenneth Clowes, RAOC

“There did not appear to be panic, but there was great confusion. I moved to the stern of the ship on the starboard side and saw a rope hanging down over the propellor housing. I climbed down the rope, let go, and fell some distance into the sea. I moved a little distance from the ship and looked back to see a man drop from the position I had. Unfortunately the ship had rolled further to port and the man struck the propellor housing before entering the sea.” – W. J. Hocking, RA/RAOC/REME

“We got burnt on arms, hands and body and when I came to there was panic. The Captain had said every man for himself. We got rafts over the side and lowered the lifeboats. In the struggle one man lost 3 fingers taken with a pulley. He dropped into the water. It was hell. The planes were still hovering about machine-gunning the decks, killing hundreds of struggling soldiers. The decks were full of bullet holes.” – F. S. Hodder, RPC