HMS Sirius passing through the lock towards the wartime submarine basin. with the U-Boat Pens in the left background. Just ahead is Bridge 'D', the lifting bridge across which hopeful evaders rushed, under fire, in their attempt to break into the main body of Saint-Nazaire. (St. Nazaire Society)
The ceremony for the inauguration of the 'Monument Commemoratif du Commando Britannique, du 28 Mars 1942' (St. Nazaire Society)
'You were the first to bring us hope.'
The maintenance of close ties with the town and people of Saint-Nazaire was a founding principle of the Society; and right from the first Committee meeting the placing of a simple plaque somewhere in the dock area had been a subject of much discussion. When the French authorities were approached, they were most enthusiastic: in fact they designed the Memorial, chose a site close to the base of the west jetty of the Avant Port and organised an inaugural reception, with some 150 Charioteers sailing to Saint-Nazaire from Portland, on board the cruiser HMS Sirius. She entered the basin via the New Entrance Lock (left), and tied up next to the very quayside along which the survivors had raced, back in 1942, in their last desperate attempt to avoid capture.
This, the first commemoration to be held in the port itself, took place on August 2nd, 1947, at a time when memories of the war were still raw, much of Saint-Nazaire having been shattered by Allied bombing. And yet, in spite of the broken buildings and personal loss, this was nevertheless considered a very special occasion indeed.
Amongst the many attending the unveiling of the Monument were numerous dignitaries including Vincent Auriol, the new President of France, and Paul Ramadier, the Prime Minister who, in recalling the dark days of 1942 under seemingly endless German occupation, said of the courageous young sailors and Commandos who had come so unexpectedly out of the night - "You were the first to bring us hope".
Of course that was a very long time ago and, in the intervening years the town of Saint-Nazaire has seen much expansion and modernisation, the most recent stages of which have prompted the relocation of the Monument du Commando to a new site at the base of the Old Mole. Here it now stands, approximately on the site of the Old Pilotage: but, sadly, without the close and evocative presence of HMS Campbeltown's forward gun.
1947: the Monument du Commando
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Major Bill Copland, D.S.O. leads the Charioteers westwards across Bridge 'D', from the site of the original Old Town (St. Nazaire Society)
HMS Sirius, 'dressed' for the occasion, alongside the Quai Demange. (St. Nazaire Society)