Dad told me that as they came down into St Nazaire he saw the Lancastria after it had been hit and watched it go down. It appears from the write up’s that the following day, 18th June was the last day of evacuation and was probably the day that Dad embarked on the French trawler on which he was to spend the next four days and nights below decks along with, I think, he said 20 others. The bits about Lord Hanson’s service career seem to tie in with Dad’s travels i.e. Army Service Corps, Med and N Africa, Athens towards the end of the war.
“The evacuation from St. Nazaire was not so free from German intervention. It was already more difficult because navigational hazards in the Loire meant that the larger ships had to use Quiberon Bay as an anchorage before moving to St. Nazaire to pick up men. Up to 40,000 troops were believed to be retreating towards Nantes, fifty miles upstream, and so Admiral Dunbar-Nasmith had decided to begin the evacuation early on 16 June. By the end of the day 13,000 base troops had been take onboard ship.
17 June saw the biggest single loss of life during the entire evacuation process when at 3.35pm the liner Lancastria was sunk by German bombing. 3,000 of the 5,800 men embarked on her were killed, even though she sank relatively slowly in shallow water. Rescue efforts were hampered by a sheet of burning oil that surrounded the ship and by a German air raid that lasted from 3.45 to 4.30pm.
This disaster was not revealed in Britain for some years. When the news reached Churchill in the Cabinet Room, he forbade its publication on the grounds that “the newspapers have got quite enough disasters for to-day at least”. At the time he had intended to lift the ban after few days had passed, but this disaster was followed by the French surrender, the start of the Battle of Britain and the constant fear of invasion. Under the pressure of these momentous events Churchill simply forgot to lift the ban until reminded of it later in the war.
Despite this tragedy, the evacuation went on. Soon after dawn on 18 June a convoy of ten ships carrying 23,000 men left the port, leaving only 4,000 men still to evacuate. False intelligence then led Admiral Dunbar-Nasmith to believe that the Germans were closer than they were, and at 11am on 18 June a convoy of twelve ships took off the last men, leaving behind a great deal of equipment that could have been rescued. The Germans had still not arrived on 19 June, but instead Admiral Dunbar-Nasmith was informed that 8,000 Poles had reached the port. Accordingly he sent in a fleet of seven transports and six destroyers, but they only found 2,000 men. By the end of the day a total of 57,235 troops had been evacuated from St. Nazaire, 54,411 British and 2,764 Polish.”
“James Edward Hanson was born in Edgerton, near Huddersfield, on 20 January, 1922. He had an inauspicious start to life when his father’s haulage firm was declared bankrupt. Fortunately, the family firm had built up again within a few years. He went to Elland Grammar School, and later Merlegh, and trained as an accountant before joining the Army at the start of the Second World War, only to fail his medical. He instead saw service with the Royal Army Service Corps in the Mediterranean and North Africa.”
His most formative experience came when he joined the Army Broadcasting service in Athens with a reputation as an expert in swing music.
Above is a scanned copy of part of an article from a Journal produced by the Congleton History Society, the piece was a record of the time spent in the Army by Tommy Washington who grew up in Buglawton with Harold. At the time Tommy was in Frace.
|The photo below is recorded as Nov1944. Harold is in the centre of the back row.