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Sunday, 11 June, 2000, 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK
'Secret' disaster remembered
Lancastria survivor
Survivors squeezed onto rescue boats
Survivors of Britain's worst sea disaster of World War II are leaving for France to commemorate its 60th anniversary.

On 17 June 1940 the British troopship HMT Lancastria was bombed by German planes and sunk off the Brittany port of Saint-Nazaire. More than 3,000 people lost their lives.

Some 20 survivors will take part in a series of events to mark the anniversary, culminating in a remembrance service at the spot where the Lancastria is believed to have gone down.


Survivors
Survivors were exhausted
Their trip is not only to remember those who died, but also to gain lasting recognition for the tragedy.

The evacuation of British troops from France in 1940 did not end with Dunkirk.

British forces were still being rescued two weeks later when Britain's worst maritime disaster of World War II took place.

The converted Cunard liner was carrying an estimated 6,000 servicemen and a number of civilian women and children when it was bombed.

The ship sank within minutes. At the time news of the disaster was suppressed on the orders of the wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, who feared it would damage morale in Britain.

It was not until almost six weeks later, on 26 July 1940, that the world discovered what had happened. The New York Times broke the story, printing some of the dramatic pictures of the disaster.

Many survivors feel they have never been properly acknowledged because of Mr Churchill's decision.


Survivor
Many were covered in oil
The disaster was photographed by Frank Clements, who was a 30-year-old volunteer on board the HMS Highlander, a destroyer that was being used to ferry troops from Saint-Nazaire harbour to the anchored Lancastria.

The pictures have now become invaluable to the Lancastria Association in their campaign to make the story of the doomed ship more widely known.

The Association's Robert Miller says: "The photographs are extremely important, priceless in fact, to us and to the whole fabric of the story."

"If it wasn't for the fact that Frank Clements was on board the Highlander and that he was a keen photographer, there would be no pictures of the disaster whatsoever."

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01 Jun 00 | UK
Lancastria in pictures
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