663 A W Company RE (the Lancastria Survivors)

As I was browsing the news today, the lost at sea, survivors or descendant's of the WW2 sinking of the troopship Lancastria are to be awarded a medal to commemorate the greatest loss of British Forces ever.

The Cunard Ship Lancastria was commissioned as a Troopship during WW2.

2 weeks after the Evacuation of Dunkirk, there were still troops left behind in France.

As usual the Sappers were last out and the Unit in the thick of it was 663 AW Coy RE "Morgans Men"

By stealth and guile they got themselves to Nantes and then on to St Nazaire and eventually got on the Lancastria.

The ship was overloaded with men and most were on the open decks when they came under attack and were sunk by the boxhead dive bombers.

Most of the 663 Coy RE were killed in action, the total dead was estimated at over 4000.

The reason we haven't heard of this is, is that Churchill put a D notice on it as they had to spin a Victory out of the evacuation from Dunkirk and a loss of this magnitude would break morale.

The surviving Sappers story is the usual Sapper humour that barely blinkers what they went through.

Enough of me click Morgans Men
A few years ago Sebag Montefiore published press letters asking for Dunkirk evacuation accounts.

I had then recently been given a typed and signed account of an Army survivor of Lancastria.

He was regarded as an elderly man (in his thirties) and in the water a boy seaman threw him his own lifejacket. "I am a strong swimmer ow fella" and away he swam. Known only unto God. True valour.

I emailed Montefiore that I had entrusted the document to Margate Historical Society. Who it emerged had lost it. Was I fuming.

I was p-ssed off with myself for not taking a copy.

But sometimes it does not feel right to take a copy.

My wife encountered this when working in a shop in Cwmbran. A man came in with a diary to be photocopied. It was the diary of an ancestor who had been blacksmith with the 24th Foot. All written in immaculate copperplate. It detailed the work he did in the campaign. Isndlwhana and Rorkes Drift etc.

I hope one day the original gets to the Regimental museum. But the calligraphy was superb. By a man who probably had hands like shovels.

But you cannot in conscience sometimes take copies can you ?


War Hero
Book Reviewer
A bit of Sapper history I never knew. Good read, and brave men the lot of them. Once a Sapper.........
Well I never. There's me thinking that the 'Slapton Sands' incident was horrendous. Never knew about this and have spent a long time reading the whole thing. It's hard to comrehend the loss of life in just that one incident. As if they hadn't done enough damage, the feckers tried to set fire to the oil spill with fire bombs!

Excellent link Mac, thanks
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