Private William Lillico

Private William Lillico, 1st Base Ordnance Depot, Royal Army Ordnance Corps, He died on Active Service at sea on 17th June 1940, aged 27, when the liner H.M.T. “Lancastria” was sunk by German aircraft during the evacuation of British troops from  St. Nazaire. About 4000 lives were lost. He had been born in Coldstream and was the son of James and Mary Lillico of 59 High Street, Coldstream. Before enlisting he had worked as a clerk in Melrose and Porteous Solicitors, 5 Tweed Terrace, Coldstream. His work companion Jim Murray  of 14 Duke Street, Coldstream was also with him in the R.A.O.C. but was not aboard the “Lancastria”. (His boss Mr Andrew Anderson, solicitor, was also in France with  the Royal Artillery but had been evacuated earlier ).He is buried in Soulac-Sur Mer ( Olives) Communal Cemetery, Gironde, France and his headstone is inscribed “Until the Day Dawn” In the photograph Private Lillico’s grave is third from the left. ( The Photo is courtesy of Pierre Pecastaingts ) . Nazi bombers had struck earlier in the day and soon reappeared. In short order the “Lancastria” was straddled with bombs, one of which ruptured her fuel tanks and spilled oil into the water. A bomb put directly down her funnel proved to be the death blow, and she began to list heavily and settle down quickly. The grisly scene that played out was as bizarre as it was horrifying. As the Lancastria rolled to her side, those on her hull began singing “Roll out the Barrel” and “There’ll Always Be an England”. The ship sank in twenty short minutes, and only 2,447 survivors were pulled from the oily waters. Having already suffered terrible defeat in France, British Prime Minister Churchill placed a D-notice on the sinking, which prevented it from being reported in the press. It would be over a month before the disaster received any mention in British papers, and even then the story never received wide circulation. To this day the story has never achieved the infamy of the Titanic or Lusitania disasters, even though it is estimated that up to 5,000 people may have perished. Though no formal memorial has been designated for those who died, the Lancastria disaster remains the worst maritime disaster in British history.  To commemorate the sinking the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, had a special medal struck for the relatives of any Scots soldier lost and Private Lillico’s  niece Caroline Robison ( Nee Lillico) duly received her commemorative medal on the 70th Anniversary in 2010. The Commemoration plaque is in Liverpool.

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