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Thread: Closed Files

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    Default Closed Files

    Hello All,

    Can anyone tell me where I can read the current “state of play” wrt Official “Closed Files”?

    The “Lancastria” files were closed for 100 years (D-Notice, etc). But the size of the disaster (in terms of casualties) soon emerged in UK via the USA. We now know (roughly?) the number of casualties (one was a meteorologist). That information has been in the Public Domain for a long time. So why are the files still ‘Closed’? Is it because the Captain of the Lancastria was ordered (by who?) to take on board more than the permitted number of people – and refused? Or, was ordered (by who?) NOT to take on board more than the permitted number – and refused? I suspect that the files are still closed in order to protect the political reputations of those (and/or their descendants) who were in in the higher reaches of the military and/or Govt and who may – by modern standards – be seen to have been in gross dereliction of their duties?

    There is also a WW2 Commonwealth country one of who’s citizen’s WW2 military file is marked “Closed By Law”. What Law? I can understand the reason(s) in this particular, individual, case.

    My point is:- is any body challenging these Security decisions (made 70-odd years ago) – very probably for political rather than security reasons! – using the more modern Freedom Of Information legislation? It is not so much a case of what is actually IN the files, but more WHY they are still closed? Individual requests will simply cause the Civil Service Mandarins to close ranks (and they do!) but can some up to date information, at least, be made known to us ‘hoi poloi’?

    No decision is irreversible!

    Peter Davies
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

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    Which files are you referring to, Peter? AIR 35/190 Lists of RAF Casualties and Survivors is certainly open and includes a four-page letter by W/C D Macfadyen which describes the events in considerable detail - he was on the ship as OiC of a party of over 200 RAF personnel. There is also ADM 1/12264 HMT Cambridgeshire in rescue of survivors from SS Lancastria - but I've not accessed this one.

    1st Edit: add WO 361/5 opened on 11 October 2007
    2nd Edit: add AIR 2/4593 Sinking of SS Lancastria

    There are other files with unit losses

    Brian
    Last edited by Lyffe; 12th February 2015 at 15:43. Reason: Another file found

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    Brian,

    I think you misunderstand me. I am not concerned with the numbers/names of the casualties – horrendous though they were (The casualties at Gallipoli and Dieppe – both Churchill instigated – were worse!). No, Lancastria was a ‘HMT’ and, as such, under the control of the Navy/Govt. Her WoPs would have been MN but with, I suspect, some RN presence!
    It is copies of the signals to/from UK/Lancastria that lie in those files. Therein lies an approximation to the truth – as far as can be perceived after 70yrs.

    It might be of some help to reproduce a piece below:-

    http://www.militarian.com/threads/ss...ing-1940.2036/
    The site of the sinking is now an official War Grave protected by The Protection of Military Remains Act of 1986. The loss of the Lancastria was the fourth largest maritime disaster of the war. Captain Rudolf Sharpe later lost his life when the ship he commanded, the Laconia, was sunk. Under the Official Secrets Act, the report on the Lancastria cannot be published until the year 2040. If it is proved that Captain Sharpe ignored the Ministry of Defence [not in existence then – but its equivalent can be assumed] instructions not to exceed the maximum loading capacity of 3000 persons, grounds for compensation claims could be enormous.

    It is my contention that the Lancastria files are being withheld for purely political reasons – the security, and personnel, aspects have long since disappeared – they should NOT be! The litigation aspects (above) are quite hypothetical!!

    Peter Davies
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

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    There is also a WW2 Commonwealth country one of who’s citizen’s WW2 military file is marked “Closed By Law”. What Law? I can understand the reason(s) in this particular, individual, case.
    Hi Peter,

    Not to cloud the issue of the Lancastria but I think you misunderstood what "Closed by Law" meant vis-a-vis that RCAF service file.

    The man's file was not closed. We proved he had been dead 20 years and were granted access. Where the "Closed by Law" came in was in the 50s when RCAF ex-POWs were filing claims for reparations. That series of files was in alpha order but not linked to any individual's RCAF file. In fact, when I went to have the 1950s documents copied at the LAC I had to prove, yet again, that he was dead the 20+ years before the copying clerk would fire up the machine.

    "Closed by Law", in this case, simply meant the file was sealed until the man was dead the 20 years, as is required by Canada's Access to Information and Privacy Act. If we wanted the file of any other ex-POW in the same series of files we would have to do the exact same thing again.

    Regards,

    Dave

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    Peter

    There are many hits in respect of the Lancastria on the Internet, but none that I've accessed complain of files being restricted. The story was withheld at the time by Churchill as the losses were so great (estimated 6000) and he was fearful for civilian morale. Whatever your link suggests the fact was that vast numbers of military personnel were attempting to board the ship and the situation was very confused. However, nothing is that simple as this extract from the end of Macfadyen's report, written on 1 July 1940, demonstrates:

    I fully appreciate that my personal remarks must be somewhat one-sided as I have not had access to all the facts, but my conclusions to this somewhat lengthy narrative are as follows:

    (a) The military organisation both in the reception area and at the docks at St Nazaire left much to be desired. In the first place I consider that these arrangements should have been in the charge of some senior military officer who could have prevented others taking the law into their own hands. I consider also that some further instructions should have been given to officers in charge of parties during the night of 16/17th June to prevent the resulting chaos on the pier the following morning. Some system of control could have been organised during the night.

    (b) I consider that embarkation could easily have been undertaken during the night of 16/17th June with the aid of the moon which was nearly full. I should be interested to know the full reasons why the French admiral commanding the port refused to allow embarkation to take place until daylight and what pressure was brought to bear on him to alter his decision. I was informed all boats were available and I see no reason why the Lancastria and the Oronsay need not have been safely away early the following morning.

    (c) The Lancastria remained at anchor for at least four hours after it was fully loaded, no doubt awaiting the convoy. It might have been advisable to get under way and clear out of the area, which had already been subjected to air attack. There are of course obvious counter-arguments to this.

    (d) In view of the numbers embarked there was a shortage of life-boat accommodation and life-belts on the Lancastria. I was informed by O.C. Troops, Lancastria, that the Captain of the ship could not hold any boat drill practice or organise a distribution of life-belts on account of this shortage. In view of the emergency, the overcrowding of the ship is fully understandable, but some foresight might have allowed for the provision of extra life-belts before the ship left port in England.

    (d) When on board the Lancastria I handed my complete nominal rolls for typing to the ship's Orderly Room. I had later therefore no nominal of my orginal party, and as personnel were rescued in various sall boats and came home in different ships, it is dificult at present to know what personnel were lost. Nominal rolls of all survivors however, have been collected as far as possible and handed to HQ BAFF (Cadre) at Bridgnorth.

    In conclusion I wish to pay a very high tribute to the Captain, Ships Officers and Crew of the Oronsay for their great trouble in looking after all survivors. Everything possible was done for our comfort and many clothes, blankets, etc., were provided for those without. The injured were also well looked after in very difficult circumstances. I asked the Assistant Purser of the ship to convey my thanks on behalf od the R.A.F. to the Captain before I disembarked, but I would suggest for your consideration that an Air Council letter of appreciation should be sent to the Board of Directors of the Orient Line.

    I have the honour to be,
    Sir,
    Your obedient Servant

    D Macfadyen
    Wing Commander



    The National Archives has produced a 30 minute audio presentation "The forgotten tragedy" at http://media.nationalarchives.gov.uk...mt-lancastria/

    Brian

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    Brian/Dave,
    Thanks yr responses! Much appreciated.
    Peter Davies
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Resmoroh View Post
    Brian,

    ...

    It might be of some help to reproduce a piece below:-

    http://www.militarian.com/threads/ss...ing-1940.2036/
    The site of the sinking is now an official War Grave protected by The Protection of Military Remains Act of 1986. The loss of the Lancastria was the fourth largest maritime disaster of the war. Captain Rudolf Sharpe later lost his life when the ship he commanded, the Laconia, was sunk. Under the Official Secrets Act, the report on the Lancastria cannot be published until the year 2040. If it is proved that Captain Sharpe ignored the Ministry of Defence [not in existence then – but its equivalent can be assumed] instructions not to exceed the maximum loading capacity of 3000 persons, grounds for compensation claims could be enormous.

    It is my contention that the Lancastria files are being withheld for purely political reasons – the security, and personnel, aspects have long since disappeared – they should NOT be! The litigation aspects (above) are quite hypothetical!!

    Peter Davies
    The only specific current 100 year closure relates to 'Law Enforcement'.

    Many other exemptions now, only give an 'Indefinite' period of closure.
    Although there was a war on and during WW 2 many risks were taken, some of those risks taken, were actually still subject to Laws, Statute, Acts and Regulations.

    Mark
    Last edited by Mark Hood; 15th February 2015 at 18:29.

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    Brian, Peter and Mark,

    But Peter first. How certain are you that the Lancastria “is now an official War Grave protected by The Protection of Military Remains Act of 1986”? (UK legislation).

    Designation as a “controlled site” is only applicable in waters controlled by the United Kingdom.

    “Shipwrecks need to be specifically designated, and designation as a “protected place” applies only to vessels that sank after 4 August 1914 (the date of the United Kingdom's entry into the First World War).”

    The Act does cover some wrecks in “international waters”.

    Most of the Falkland wrecks are covered by local Falkland Island legislation.

    Surely the Lancastria lies in French territorial waters?

    I have taken a quick peek of the Act and cannot, at first glance, see that it covers the Lancastria.

    It is difficult to see where wrecks are protected by this British Act in the territorial sovereignty of another nation – namely France.

    The Act seems to be extra territorial (partly) to a specific aircraft or vessel, as far as “international waters” go.

    The wreck of HMS Bluebell lies in Russian territorial waters and is not as far as I can see covered by this Act. Likewise HMS Edinburgh. “However, although the Act gave immediate protection to wrecked aircraft, the wrecks of ships needed to be individually designated to be protected.”

    It would appear that the UK Government picks and chooses what wrecked warships it wishes to protect.

    Please correct me if my comments are wildly out of kilter.

    David

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    This is way outside my area of expertise, David, but a quick Google search seems to support your thinking. I appreciate Wikipedia is not always the best research tool but there is what seems to be a very good account at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Lancastria which is consistent with your arguments. There are other sites which state the wreck is a War Grave but I suspect the authors have not researched the matter as thoroughly as you or the author of the Wikipedia account have: for example http://www.compunews.com/gus/lancastria.htm .

    Some of the links do refer to the 100 year closure referred to by Peter's first post, but the presentation (http://media.nationalarchives.gov.uk...mt-lancastria/) includes extracts from the report by the ship's captain, Captain Rudolph Sharp, some of the crew and survivors - unfortunately no file reference is given but that almost certainly means Captain Sharp's report is accessible somewhere in the NA. At about 28 minutes in there is a reference to a WO file (I didn't catch the number) in respect of a nominal roll that was compiled between 1940 and 1946.

    Brian

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    Gents
    Could you explain, please, what do you mean, and what files are closed? I am a bit lost!
    Nonetheless, closed files are not a bad option, as there are examples of leaks or declassification. The much more significant problem is destruction of records 'due to limited historical importance'. Several careers saved by this!

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