The Lancastria and Operation Ariel
Eighty years ago today, your blogger’s father was at St Nazaire in France, hoping to be evacuated. He was a member of the BEF, serving with the Scottish Horse. He was far from confident he would survive. He had been left behind, when many of the men he was with had been taken off to RMS Lancastria. All of this was part of Operation Aeriel or Ariel, to rescue the remaining troops in France. It turned out your blogger’s father was lucky. There was a devastating attack by a German bomber on the Lancastria, which was filled with troops and civilians. The ship sank within twenty minutes of being hit, and the estimates of how many died vary between 3,000 and just under 6,000. It is the largest maritime loss of life in British history.
Readers of this blog will forgive this rather personal entry, not on legal history, but your blogger has not yet observed any commemoration of this tragic event in the news media today. Because of the scale of the disaster, a D-Notice prevented publicity at the time. In comparison to the Dunkirk evacuation, it has never entered British public memory, though information can be found on the internet.
Readers may be glad to know that, despite his experiences, my father all his life remained extremely fond of France and the French, as indeed of Germany and the Germans. He was always pleased to visit both countries, and until advanced age he spoke both people’s languages reasonably well, though with an observable Scottish accent. He eventually ended up on the River Elbe in 1945, waiting for the Russians to arrive; he wanted to visit Berlin, but was denied permission as it was still too dangerous. I have some of his army passes to visit other German towns and cities, such as Göttingen. He obviously combined the war with sight-seeing. Rather a Romantic, my father thought that Germany and the Germans were culturally rather like the Scots, though, among European countries, France was undoubtedly his first and greatest love.