By Jonathan Schofield

A war hero and boxing legend who died in the greatest maritime disaster in British history has finally received a medal for his bravery.
Sudbury-born Don Theobald was killed along with thousands of comrades when a German bomb hit the Lancastria in the Bay of Biscay, as the British Expeditionary Force retreated from France on June 17, 1940.

The story of the boxer was published in the Free Press in May following an article in The Old Timer magazine on East Anglia’s boxing legends.
Just two months later Don’s nephew, Melvyn Theobald, of Humphrey Road, Sudbury, has finally received a medal and a letter from Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond.

Mr Theobald said: “He died a hero, trying to get men off the boat after it had been hit by Luftwaffe bombs. It’s is only right that he should be honoured, even though it has taken 68 years.
“The British authorities placed a 100-year embargo on the incident so it has taken the Scottish to finally recognise my uncle.”
The embargo means specific detail about the disaster, which is said to have claimed between 2,500 and 6,000 lives, will not be made public until 2040.
Don was touted as a future international boxing champion before he was called up to the Royal Military Police.

Melvyn said: “He was being evacuated from France when he managed to board the Lancastria. He would have come home to Sudbury and carried on with his life if he hadn’t gone back to save more men.”

The bomb that killed Don, aged 26, went straight down the funnel and into the engine room before exploding. The Lancastria sank within minutes.
In 1945 his mother, Lilly, received a letter from one of Don’s friends who was with him moments before he died.

The letter said: “Don got me out on deck and then went back to help get some other fellows out who had been hurt. That was the last I saw of him as someone else pushed me over the side and I swam around until I got picked up about an hour later. Don was the finest man I’ve ever met and I know that I owe my life to him.”