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On the Troopship "Lancastria"

by Jacqueline Hickman

Contributed by 
Jacqueline Hickman
People in story: 
Lance Corporal George E Barnes
Location of story: 
Saint-Nazaire off the Brittany Port
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A4095786
Contributed on: 
20 May 2005

I am the niece of George E Barnes and I discovered this press cutting in my parents house recently. George died about 30 years ago and I felt that his experience would be of interest to this website.

The press cutting was taken from a local paper, the Guardian. He lived in Pembroke Dock and he would have been 23 at the time of this incident. This is a copy of the press cutting.

"Pembroke Dock Soldier's Grim Experiences"

Amongst those who shared the terrible ordeal in the troop ship "Lancastria" which was sunk by enemy aircraft at St. Nazaire on June 17th was Lance Corporal George E Barnes youngest son of Mr and Mrs FC Barnes, Pembroke Dock. After a series of the most grim adventures Lance Coporal Barnes succeeded in reaching safety and he arrived home on well earned leave last week.

The story of his unenviable experiences is best told in his own words "with some of my mates I was asleep in the bows of the ship when the enemy attacked. Five Dorniers and one Italian plane came over and started at us. It was then about 2.30pm and they bombed us without ceasing until gone 4.00pm. They got three direct hits, one landing in the bows, one in the stern, and one going down the funnel and bursting in the engine room. The one that exploded in the bows was only ten yards from me and its explosion hurled me right across the ship. When the boat began to sink we formed up in two columns and after allowing all the women and children to get to the boats the order was given "Every man for himself". With two sergeants of my unit I ran to the forehold and with the aid of a rope we got several men out - they could not get out otherwise as the stairs were blown away and everything was shattered. We stayed there until the boys were underwater and then we dived for it - in our birthday suits. By this time the engines had burst and there were three or four inches of thick black oil on the water which made things more difficult.

I was wounded in the arm in France and could not swim so before jumping for it I shook hands with my mates and we wished each other all the best. When we were in the water Jerry came over again and started machine gunning us and dropping incendiary bombs - there were 20 men on one raft and they were all killed. I managed to get hold of a piece of driftwood and I clung to that until 7.05pm when a destroyer came along and picked us up".

Asked if he received any injury L/Cpl Barnes said that the whole of his right side was burnt by the blast of the bomb which exploded in the bows.

"What was the morale of our men like?" enquired our reporter and he replied with emphasis "It was grand, it could not have been better. It was typically British. When I was in the water I looked back and saw 50 or 60 men in the ship who had no hope of escape but they were singing "Roll out the Barrel" with wonderful cheerfulness. Yes they were very brave men."

An old scholar of the county school L/Cpl Barnes is well known in the town. He is leaving for service overseas this week and takes with him the best wishes of all his friends.

I know that he served in the African campaign as a Desert Rat in the Eighth Army after this and stayed in the army after the war and became Sergeant Major Barnes.

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