100-year old Lancastria survivor joins memorial service

AN Uxbridge man who was among survivors of the 1940 Lancastria disaster this week attended a memorial service at St Katherine’s Cree Church in London.

Ernest Beesley, who currently lives at Bupa Clare House care home in Harefield Road, was in his early 20s when the ship was sunk by German bombers during World War Two.

A few months from his 101st birthday, Ernest continues to commemorate the tragedy each year and is one of only a handful of remaining survivors.

Clare House manager Dave Togoto said: “They still don’t know how many people were killed when the Lancastria sunk.

“They just know it was thousands – more than Titanic and Lusitania put together. It was a terrifying ordeal, but I think it is really important to Ernest that it’s remembered, and that people still talk about it.

“We like to ensure all our residents are able to take part in activities that mean something to them as it has a positive impact on their overall wellbeing.”

The annual memorial gives survivors like Ernest and their descendants, a chance to reflect on the event and remember those that were lost.

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For Ernest, despite his age, the memory is a clear one.

“I don’t remember panicking. It was all very calm,” he said, “I knew the ship was going to sink and I had to get away from it.

“I’d managed to get a life jacket and I jumped off and swam, probably about a quarter of a mile, until I saw a navy corvette heading towards me.

“At first, I thought it was going to hit me, but the crew threw me a life raft which I was able to board.”

After surviving the war, Ernest moved to Perivale, where he lived with his wife of 72 years, Doris, who died in 2013. The pair moved to Clare House in 2009, when Ernest was 91.

Though the couple had no children, Ernest remains close to his nieces, who visit him regularly.

Bupa Clare House is a specialist home providing care for people with Parkinson’s, as well as a range of nursing, convalescence and respite care.