Ferry victims’ names to be added to Princess Victoria memorial

Councillor Billy Ashe, former mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough, at the Princess Victoria Memorial in Larne with the late William McAllister, who was the last survivor of the disaster until he passed away last month
Councillor Billy Ashe, former mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough, at the Princess Victoria Memorial in Larne with the late William McAllister, who was the last survivor of the disaster until he passed away last month

The names of two men identified as being among those who perished in one of the UK’s worst peacetime sea disasters are set to be added to a memorial commemorating the tragedy.

The Princess Victoria ferry sank between Stranraer and Larne in January 1953.

The ship, one of the first roll-on roll-off ferries, took on water after being stricken by a terrible storm. It went down close to the Copeland Islands off the coast of Co Down.

Only 44 of the 177 people on board escaped with their lives; not a single woman or child survived.

Historian Liam Kelly, from Larne, undertook research into the disaster and identified the names of two men, Gordon Wright and Thomas Saunders, who he believed should be added to the memorial.

Gordon Wright was found to have been listed among service personnel who died in the tragedy. Thomas Saunders, an English airman, was mentioned in a newspaper article in which his family said he had been returning to barracks after a home visit when the ferry sank.

The Ulster Historical Foundation was commissioned to research both men’s names and investigate whether further information about them could be obtained.

They discovered paperwork that confirmed both men died at sea on January 31, 1953, the date of the Princess Victoria disaster.

Members of Mid and East Antrim Council were last night expected to recommend that the men’s names be added to the memorial in Larne.

Welcoming the move, Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, councillor Paul Reid, said: “The sinking of the Princess Victoria devastated families and communities here, in Stranraer and further afield.

“More than six decades may have passed, but the pain and sense of loss is still felt.

“I thank Mr Kelly and the Ulster Historical Foundation for all their hard work.”

The council will also share the findings with their counterparts in Dumfries and Galloway so they can consider adding the men’s names to a similar memorial in Scotland.

Last month one of the last survivors of the disaster, Larne man Billy McAllister, passed away at the age of 84. He was a galley boy on the ship when the disaster struck.

Poignant services take place at the memorials in Larne and Stranraer on the anniversary of the tragedy each year.