Families of veterans to claim deserved medals.

Veteran’s Secretary Keith Brown is appealing to the families of World War Two veterans to claim medals honouring their family members.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the HMS Lancastria troopship by German dive bombers on 17 June 1940 as the British Expeditionary withdrew from France.

It accounted for the greatest loss of life in Royal Navy history with only an estimated 2,500 people out of the 9,000 strong crew surviving.

The Scottish Government commissioned a medal in 2008 to honour survivors and descendants of those who lost their lives and more than 375 medals have since been issued across the world.

However, the anniversary will also signal the closure of the medal application process, with the last day for applications the 15th of May.

Mr Brown said:

“We in Scotland feel a strong bond with the servicemen and women who have served us throughout the years and continue to protect the democratic freedoms we still enjoy today.

“The commemorative HMS Lancastria medal from the Scottish Government is a lasting reminder of our gratitude to those who made the ultimate sacrifice on that fateful day. Their memory is honoured, their place in history is secured.

“I would urge anyone who thinks they or a family member is entitled to one to get in touch and make sure they wear that medal with pride as we mark the 75th anniversary of an incredible chapter of our naval history.”

The Lancastria Association of Scotland was found by Mark Hirst in 2005. Mark is the grandson of Lancastria survivor Walter Hirst from Dundee. Walter, a member of 663 Company Royal Engineers, was on the top deck of the ship when the attack took place and subsequently spent several hours in the water before being rescued by a French fishing boat. One third of Walter’s unit, 92 men, perished on the Lancastria. Many other units, especially on the lower decks, suffered 100 per cent losses that day.

Mr Hirst said:

“It meant a great deal to our members and in particular the remaining survivors when the Scottish Government agreed to strike the Lancastria Commemorative Medal in recognition of their endurance that day and the sacrifice of their lost and, up until then, their forgotten comrades.

“I know from the many responses I’ve received from recipients that the medal and the subsequent Lancastria memorial erected on the Clyde, which was also supported by the Scottish Government, have brought a sense of closure to many, but also a feeling that their contribution during WW2 is valued.

“The sinking of the Lancastria is the single worst maritime loss of life in British history and the bloodiest single loss for British forces in the whole of WW2.

“It is right that those involved are and will always be remembered and the Lancastria medal is a tangible symbol of that remembrance.”

Reg Brown one of the last remaining to have survived on the Lancastria was in the same unit as Walter Hirst. He survived in large due to his strong swimming ability but has never forgotten the horror of that day when the 17,000 ton Lancastria sank in just 20 minutes after being hit by German Junker 88 bombers.

Reg Brown said:

"The Lancastria medal was so important for me and for the survivors. We waited a very long time to get this recognition and it means a lot.

"For years the experience we went through was forgotten, deliberately covered up. Everyone has heard of the Titanic but no one had heard of the Lancastria even though it claimed many more lives.

"I will never forget the events of that day aboard the Lancastria - the sheer horror of it. The medal acknowledges and commemorates the sacrifice of my friends and the thousands of others who lost their lives that day.

"I am hoping to attend the 75th anniversary this year and I will wear my Lancastria medal with pride as one of the last remaining veterans who was aboard the Lancastria on the 17th June 1940."

 

If you believe you are eligible for the commemorative medal then an application form must be filled in. You can access the form in the following ways:

• Online: http://www.lancastria.org.uk/lancastria-medal-application/

• By contacting:
Catherine Church
Defence Policy Unit
Scottish Government
Area 1-Rear
St Andrews House
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG.

Documentary evidence showing you or a relative were on HMT Lancastria will be double checked by the Association Lancastria archivist.

The 75th anniversary of the HMT Lancastria sinking will be marked by the French Government at a ceremony at St Nazaire.

In October 2011, a memorial to those who perished on HMT Lancastria was unveiled by the former First Minister Alex Salmond in the grounds of the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank on the site of the Dalmuir Yard, where the ship was built.