Memorial tributes to Lancastria victims

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SURVIVORS and relatives of victims of one of Britain's worst maritime disasters yesterday gathered to remember lost friends and loved ones at a series of memorial services.

The Clyde-built Lancastria was carrying about 9,000 troops when it was sunk by German bombers off France in 1940 during a mass evacuation. About 4,000 people died, including 400 Scots.

The wreck lies about five miles from the town of St Nazaire in about 20m of water.

The first memorial service to be held in Scotland for the victims took place at St George's Church West in Edinburgh yesterday. Services also took place in London and St Nazaire.

Among those in attendance at the Edinburgh service was survivor Charles Napier, 88, from Inverurie.

He said: "It was a good service and I was very affected by it. I was a Royal Engineer and coming home from France when it happened. I had quite a few friends on board."

The French deputy consul general, Scotland's Lord Advocate Colin Boyd and a number of MSPs were in attendance, including Christine Grahame of the Scottish National Party, who gave the eulogy.

The South of Scotland MSP said it had been a "very moving" event. "Very few people know about the Lancastria because it was kept quiet for propaganda reasons at the time," she said.

But she wants a permanent memorial to the converted liner. "I've called on Jack McConnell to erect a memorial at the site where it was built in Clydebank."

The Lancastria Association of Scotland, which held the service, is campaigning for greater public recognition of the disaster and urging the government to designate the wreck of the Lancastria a war grave.

Yesterday, it emerged that the French government is to give the wreck special protected status, preventing any diving within 200m.