TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

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BENIDORM
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TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

Postby BENIDORM » Thu Dec 04, 2008 9:48 pm

I have been trying for quite some time to find out if there is a memorial or plaque in Gibraltar to commemorate this disaster .I have tried through another forum to find any information, but although I had some very helpful replies, I'm still no nearer to finding any positive information.
As so many members of A.Com will be visiting Gibraltar at this time of year, I wondered if I could ask you to keep your eyes open , on the off chance that someone might spot some info. that they could pass on to me, I don't want to put anyone to any trouble, but would be most grateful.

If I may just give you some background and to explain my reasons for this request..

In December, 1963 I was a young crewman aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier H.M.S Centaur, and we were on passage to the Far East, when the ship was asked to assist a Greek registered cruise ship the T.S.M.S Lakonia which was on fire.
When we arrived on scene the 'Lakonia' was badly damaged by fire and was listing dangerously, members of our crew managed to get on board and recovered many bodies, and we also located many bodies in the sea, already floating some miles from the wreck.
In total we recovered 78 bodies, but I know that 128 people perished in the disaster, men women and children, some quite badly burned, and it was quite a difficult time for our crew,but everyone carried out their jobs professionaly and with compassion.
On Christmas Day we arrived at Gibraltar and started the gruesome task of lowering the bodies on mesh cradles down to a floating pontoon , which had been brought from the dockyard.
Christmas Dinner was being served in our dining hall, but there was not many takers, and it was the only Christmas day in my life that I didn't sit down and enjoy the festivities.
I was 17 years of age , and the events of those few days have never left me, and I've wanted for a long time to find a memorial or grave where I could go and pay my respects to the poor souls who perished in this disaster.
I was told originally that they would be buried in a mass grave in Gibraltar, and was really surprised when I could find no sign or records, I have visited several times but found nothing, and I'm now wondering if maybe the bodies were repatriated to UK, but surely there must be at least a plaque to commemorate this disaster.?
The 'Lakonia' was taken on tow by tugs which headed for Gibraltar, but it sank a long way off.

I would be so grateful if someone could help throw some light on this mystery,and I do apologise if you find this boring.

Thank You,
Gordon.

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Re: TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

Postby katy » Thu Dec 04, 2008 10:24 pm

Thats very interesting, I have never heard of it before. Have you tried contacting the British High Commission in Gibraltar? Please let us know if you find any information.

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Re: TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

Postby Jool » Thu Dec 04, 2008 11:22 pm

Hi Beni,

I found this info, not sure it will help but will look more, I´m intrigued now, you wouldn´t think this would be brushed under the carpet would you......

http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/t ... 1020523785

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Re: TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

Postby BENIDORM » Thu Dec 04, 2008 11:37 pm

Katy,
Thanks for that, a good tip.
I have tried a few other sources, plenty of information about the ship's history, but 'nowt' about the landing of the bodies of the people who perished.
I can understand that it was probably kept 'quiet', I won't go into details but I will never forget it, quite horrific.

Jool,
Appreciate you searching for me, all info. gratefully received.

I do know that it was a troop ship during the war, and it was quite sad to see it in such a state.

Anyway I will try to post any info. that might turn up, for anyone interested..

Regards,
Gordon

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Re: TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

Postby masterob » Fri Dec 05, 2008 1:18 am

Have you tried contacting the British High Commission in Gibraltar


Gibraltar is a self-governing part of the UK so it does not have a British High Commission anymore than Scotland or Wales do. The option would be to approach the Gibraltar Government directly. According to their web site, http://www.gibraltar.gov.gi/ the Ministry of Culture looks after heritage matters. It may not be within their remit but asking there would be a start. Their e-mail is: minculture@gibtelecom.net

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Re: TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

Postby Devils Advocate » Fri Dec 05, 2008 8:31 am

I had a little swot up on this last night and one of the most poingnant things for me was my recollection of the superstition with regards to boats changing their names bringing bad luck.
Lakonia as you'll know changed its name 9 months earlier :(

As you say there's plenty of info. out there regarding the vessel and the incident backed up by lots of photos of the actual fire but to find out about your question of survivors I think you'll have to subscribe to an old newspaper archive site where I'm convinced the answer is waiting.

I did find some usefull snippets from the New York Times 1963 about the incident although it only gives the briefest details without paying for a subscrtiption.........it does mention bodies being repatriated back to the UK and USA, maybe all bodies were repatriated?.

As for a memorial and if you hadn't mentioned Gibraltar I'd be hazzarding a guess that if such a thing exsisted it would from what I've gleaned so far be in Madeira.
Interesting though all the same and what a coincidence that a ship with the same name was torpedoed in WW2.

Regards,
DA
Property owner in Andalucia since 2002. How time flies.

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princess peach
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Re: TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

Postby princess peach » Fri Dec 05, 2008 8:38 am

I wondered if I could ask you to keep your eyes open , on the off chance that someone might spot some info. that they could pass on to me


Beni,i will make a note of what you are looking for and speak to my husband,he works all over Gibraltar and also has access to places that are out of bounds to tourists and locals(ie- army camps,goverment buildings etc..(even working actually inside the rock at the moment,only one man has the key..spooky..)
I will have a chat to him when he comes home today,and see if he has seen anything and if not,get him to keep a lookout for you.xxx :D
You have made me feel quite emotional reading your story this morning. :(

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Re: TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

Postby BENIDORM » Fri Dec 05, 2008 10:29 am

Masterob,
Thank you for going to the trouble of posting the e-mail address and info., and I will certainly write to them today, and will post the outcome here for anyone who is interested.

DA.,
I note the comments that you made regarding the possibility of a memorial being in Madeira, I'd always assumed that because we had landed the victims bodies at Gibraltar, that it would be there that any memorial would be placed.We were also told that the victims would be buried in Gib.,but of course what actually happened I don't know.
With regards to the photos of the disaster, most of the photographs were taken by our ships photographer, from the flight deck of the 'Centaur' and from our helicopters, I was stood near him on the flight deck when he was taking many of the pictures, and I still have some copies which he gave me later.
I was a member of the flight deck steam catapults and aircraft arrestor gear crew, so had a 'birds eye view' of all the goings on, sometimes I wish that I had been below decks.
With regard to the Lakonia name change, yes always regarded as unlucky with seafarers, lots of superstitions at sea.
Anyway thank you for your interest.

Peachy,
I should have thought about you, with regard to your husband working in Gib.,
and yes please ask him if he can find out any info.,tell him I'll buy him a beer , next time I'm in Gib.
You say his job is 'spooky', going into banned places and into the Rock, but to be honest I'd love to do that, 'right up my street'..I love crawling around in bunkers etc. :)

Regards,
Gordon

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Re: TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

Postby katy » Fri Dec 05, 2008 10:44 am

Maybe the old records are in the public record office
www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

Do let us know if you find anything, intrigued now.

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Re: TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

Postby princess peach » Fri Dec 05, 2008 12:11 pm

I will definatley speak to him when he gets in today for you..His job isnt normally spooky,but at the moment they are doing a job that involves shifting work items thru the rock and into tunnels inside it..there was just two of them the other day,my hubby came over queasy and light headed and mentioned it to the other guy..and he said the same thing happened to him minuites earlier.. :?
The rock inside is riddled with various tunnels,which drop down and branch off into the pitch blackness...they are regularly hearing wierd noises from inside... :shock: Glad i dont have to go in there...Oh plus,they have to be locked in...as there is only one key,the guy opens up...they go in..and he locks the door or gate behind them..agreeing a time to come and let them back out... :lol:

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Re: TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

Postby Devils Advocate » Fri Dec 05, 2008 1:26 pm

Quite a detailed write up of the event here including info. about passengers indeed being transported to Madeira.


http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedi ... velt-(ship)


link won't work for some reason.....shame
But this is the address (without the URLS) to do it manually


[url][/url]http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Johan-van-Oldenbarnevelt-(ship)[url]


Regards,
DA
Property owner in Andalucia since 2002. How time flies.

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Re: TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

Postby princess peach » Fri Dec 05, 2008 4:26 pm

Beni,i have spoken to my hubby,he says he cannot remember seeing any memorial,but has given me a couple of places in Gib to investigate that will know what happened to the bodies and if there is such a memorial in Gibraltar.
I will get onto it for you,if my hubby doesnt beat me to it. :wink:

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Re: TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

Postby BENIDORM » Sat Dec 06, 2008 9:07 am

Thanks for all of the info. posted on here and by e-mail, I really appreciate the fact that you have all gone to so much trouble.

I have sent several e-mails off to the various agencies etc, and will post any outcome.

When it gets to this time of year I can't help thinking about the disaster, and in my mind I can see all of the events as if they happened yesterday, and every Christmas Day I have a quite, sombre few minutes to reflect on it.
Lots of 'things' happened in my life time, were I have been directly involved, and as I get older I seem to remember them more, probably too much time on my hands, still I always try to have a positive outlook, and won't let anything get me 'down '... :)

Kind Regards To Everyone,
Gordon.

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Re: TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

Postby lis48 » Sat Dec 06, 2008 5:33 pm

Have you read this article in Time written a couple of weeks after the incident?
It mentions your ship and it does sound as though Madeira is more likely to be the place for any memorial.
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/artic ... 74,00.html
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Re: TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

Postby katy » Sat Dec 06, 2008 6:12 pm

Well done Lis. How sad it was.

Don't want to dilute the thread but this is one of my concerns with the Spanish cruise lines currently offering cheapies. All the ships are old and bought off other lines.

Benidorm when you said you wanted to write a book, why not build it around your experience?

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Re: TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

Postby BENIDORM » Sat Dec 06, 2008 7:49 pm

Lis,
Thank you for that, I did read it many years ago, and although I know the survivors were taken to Madeira, I'm sure that we took most, if not all of the bodies of the victims to Gibraltar. Apart from the victims that we recovered from the sea and from the Lakonia, I seem to remember others being transferred from the rescue ships.The more I think about it, the more I doubt that the bodies were then transferred to Madeira, but I suppose that there is a good chance that there is a memorial there.
I was today discussing the incident with a friend, and he asked me to describe the scene when the 'Centaur' arrived, he also suggested I mention it here..

I spotted the debris and the body of a Greek officer floating in the sea before I could really see the listing , smoking hull of the 'Lakonia' in the distance, there was a strong smell of smoke and oil in the air, and we were silent as we looked on in dismay at the scene of mayhem floating so close to us.
The white faces of the victims seemed to stare back at us, and it was really hard to believe that only a few hours before they had been enjoying themselves at a dance on board or going about their crew duties as normal.
There seemed to be empty lifeboats ,rafts and lifejackets everywhere,and I remember wondering why they were empty and so many people still in the water, it wasn't until later that I realised that the living had already been rescued by the first ships on the scene.
Our ships boats bobbed about in the fast running heavy sea swell, as they retrieved the ice cold bodies of the victims, it was a very difficult task lifting them from sea, it almost seemed at times that the ocean didn't want to give them back.
My shipmates didn't say much, but just occasionally blurted out in disbelief, short sentences...'The old lady is still clutching her handbag',........
..'He doesn't look dead, are you sure he's dead, is there nothing we can do ?'

I felt quite numb, and expected to be sick, but wasn't, I remember thinking that less than 2 years before this incident I was sat at a school desk, staring out of the window, day-dreaming about adventures at sea, and now it was happening, but it seemed so unreal..

Gordon....

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Re: TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

Postby lis48 » Sun Dec 07, 2008 11:12 pm

I hope you know, Benidorm, how many hearts you´ve touched by your posting. Keeping personal stories like that alive, is exactly what life is all about. You need to publicise your story.
Más vale un "por si acaso" que un "¿quién lo iba a saber?"

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Re: TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

Postby Chrissie » Mon Dec 08, 2008 12:26 am

Thankyou Gordon for a deeply moving story.

There is a copy of Life Magazine on Ebay. It might be of interest...
http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/Life-Magazine-196 ... 638Q2em122
The past cannot be changed, but the present can be spoilt by worrying about the future

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Re: TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

Postby BENIDORM » Mon Dec 08, 2008 7:17 pm

Thank You everyone for your help and understanding.

I didn't intend for this posting to become a story , I really just wanted to find out about the possible site of a memorial, however I can understand that many of you are interested, and I will post any information that comes to me.

It is important to me, I've carried the images of the faces of the victims in my mind for so long, I just feel that I now want to be free of those images, and I wish that I could now achieve closure of this incident by visiting a grave or memorial, were this could hopefully happen.

Sorry I don't seem to have explained that very well, I know what I want to say, but can't find the correct words.

Gordon.

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Re: TSMS Lakonia Disaster.1963

Postby princess peach » Mon Dec 08, 2008 7:28 pm

Beni,i have emailed a reliable source in Gibraltar,and i am awaiting an email back from them.
Once i have a reply,i will put the reply(hopefully an informative one)on here,so you can read it.
Fingers crossed it may give you a more definate answer whether or not there is a memorial based in Gib.xx


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