Albert Friby


My father Albert John Firby (known as Jack)died when I was six years old, but my mother told me that he walked for several days over one of the French mountain ranges to reach the coast at St Nazaire. On 17th June 1940, he managed to get one of the last places on the extremely over laden Lancastria, which apparently contained over 5000 men. When the ship was only a short way out to sea, it suffered a direct hit from a German dive bomber which caused it to sink. I do not know how long it took to sink, but my mother told me that my father gave his life jacket to a young lad who could not swim, (I would dearly like to know who that young lad was, but as it all happened so long ago, the chances are almost nil.) The survivors were in the water for several hours before they were picked up.


Apparently this weakened my fathers heart, and in 1956, whilst working for Derek Crouch on the Ouse Drainage Board, he died of a blood clot to the brain.


Unfortunately for my mother, who was left with three children to bring up, he died one year after the time allotted for widows to claim a war widows pension. Major Legge-Bourke our local M.P. tried unsuccessfully to claim this pension on my mothers behalf.

Last year my family (My husband, myself and my daughter) went to St Nazaire to try and find the memorial that was erected to the poor men who did not survive this terrible disaster, we managed to get the tourist office in St Nazaire to understand that we wanted to know where it was, but unfortunately they did not know. We found in the souvenir shop, a strange hand-typed, Perspex fronted souvenance book about the Lancastria and the Jean Bart Disasters. This book was written in French, and as it was getting late we decided to go back to our holiday residence in St Jean de Mont. It was only after having read the book that night, on the very last page we discovered that the monument was in the cemetery of one of the villages that we had passed through on the way back, it was in the village of Pornic.


We have decided to return this year to a place just further up the coast in southern Brittany and will try again to see the memorial. I would love to hear from anyone who knew my father during this awful event, as my mother also passed away in 1992, so I am unable to ask her anymore about this time in my father’s life.