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Scottish Parliament Speech: Lancastria (December 2007)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

When I came to the chamber, I did not intend to speak, but I have been so moved by the speeches that have been made in the debate that I may be able to contribute something to it.

I am one of the historical advisers to the new museum of transport on the Clyde, which is being built on the river just opposite the Govan shipyard. The museum has one of the most wonderful shipbuilding model collections in the world, for boats that were built on the Clyde. When going through the museum's contents, I was struck by the fact that, although in Edinburgh castle we have one of the finest national war memorials in Europe - a unique memorial to an entire people caught up in the first world war - we do not have a fitting memorial to those who died, often civilians and merchant seamen, in the great battle of the Atlantic during the second world war. The sinking of the Lancastria was the first awful episode in that battle. If ships were torpedoed, those on board did not have a chance of surviving. Many families in Scotland were affected by that experience.

It struck me that some means of commemorating the ships that went out and sank, and the people who died, might be found in the new museum, which will be placed at a point where one can look up and down the river and see the great hive of activity that was once there. Kids and school parties will go there and, if the museum included a memorial, they would have a chance to commune with the past. The sinking of the Lancastria is the first chapter in the story, but there are other tragic chapters. The Arandora Star, which was carrying interned Italians into exile, was torpedoed, taking with it about a third of the Scots Italian community. Both friend and suspected foe perished in those seas, but there is no memorial to them. If we are contemplating setting up such a fine museum, it should include a section on these events, or some means of commemorating them that draws the visitor to it.

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