By Patricia Gibson MP
On Monday, 27th March, I secured and led a debate in the House of Commons to commemorate the 80th anniversary of HMS Dasher’s sinking and allow Westminster its first ever opportunity to reflect on this tragedy.
HMS Dasher was originally intended to be an American merchant vessel but was hastily altered to become a Royal Navy aircraft carrier during World War II. Her captain, Lennox Albert Knox Boswell, had been in charge for just three weeks when he commanded the carrier in flying exercises on Saturday, March 27th 1943, midway between Ardrossan and Brodick.
Shortly after completion of these exercises there was a tremendous internal explosion, which plunged the ship into darkness, as lights and machinery stopped working. Many of Dasher’s crew were trapped below deck. More lives were lost when sailors jumped overboard, only to be swallowed by flames from burning oil leaking from Dasher or suffered hypothermia in the cold sea beyond, despite the heroic efforts of the lifeboats which rushed from Ardrossan and Brodick to help. Of 528 crew, 379 were lost.
To this day, family of these crewmen continue to seek answers surrounding this tragedy. Many of their loved ones’ bodies were either brought ashore or washed up on local beaches. Whilst some are buried in Ardrossan Cemetery, recorded by the War Graves Commission, many others are unaccounted for.
Eighty years later, the location of the sinking is now an official war grave, recognising the crewmen unable to leave the vessel as it sank.
The catastrophe remained secret outside Ayrshire and Arran until 1945, the Government seeking to avoid undermining wartime morale. As a result, the many lives lost and the bravery of the crew and rescue teams has not always been adequately acknowledged.
It’s hard to imagine the local impact of this disaster. However, the tragedy didn’t shatter community spirit and actually stiffened resolve.
Indeed, during my Westminster debate I attempted to vividly portray the tremendous strength of North Ayrshire and Arran’s people by bringing to life the horror and devastation of HMS Dasher’s sinking, enabling MPs to commemorate the tragedy while remembering and honouring both those who died and those who survived, sometimes with physical or psychiatric injuries. The crew was part of a war against tyranny and made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom and democracy. We must retell their story to ensure their memory lives on.
Conflict continues in many parts of the world. This anniversary should further remind us of those men and women who devote their lives to defence of the realm and upholding democratic principles; principles that Ukraine is battling to defend this very day.
Arran has a proud history of supporting our Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. I thank all the servicemen and women, their families and Royal British Legion volunteers who support our veterans and have ensured that HMS Dasher’s sinking is properly commemorated.
The story of what happened to 379 men between Ardrossan and Brodick 80 years ago deserves to be recognised not just in Scotland or Westminster but across the UK.
We will remember them.
Patricia Gibson MP
North Ayrshire & Arran
Unit 1 | 78 Princes Street | Ardrossan | KA22 8DF
Tel: 01294 603774