A wreath of red poppies was cast upon the sea at Portland to remember 29 men who drowned 70 years ago.

Members of the HMS Illustrious Association gathered at Portland Marina on Sunday, Trafalgar Day, to mark the 70th anniversary of the sinking of a liberty boat returning to the aircraft carrier.

On October 17, 1948 a liberty boat returning in driving wind and rain to HMS Illustrious, sank close to the ship.

Of the 50 men aboard, 29 were drowned, mainly young men. Nineteen are buried in Portland Royal Naval Cemetery.

The incident is one of the worst peacetime naval disasters.

The liberty boat set out from Weymouth around 10.30pm on the Sunday night, in a fierce south-westerly gale.

It was returning back to the ship, anchored in Portland Harbour, after a day out on


It was reported that men from the HMS Illustrious risked their own lives trying to save those who had been aboard the liberty boat.

In 2010 a Portland stone memorial was unveiled as a permanent reminder of those who lost their lives.

Services have been held regularly to remember those who died in the tragedy, sometimes attended by survivors, some who had settled

as far away as New Zealand, Alfred Lowe. Mr Lowe was aged 17 during the tragedy and awarded the St George Cross after he attempted to save the life of a young midshipman.

The Association’s President, Vice Admiral Robert Cooling, addressed a Service of Remembrance and laid a wreath on the dockside Memorial.

Later, 93-year-old George Casson, who served in Illustrious at the time, boarded the Portland to Weymouth ferry and was taken to the site of the disaster where he cast a wreath of red poppies on the waves.

Five RN ships have borne the Illustrious name; Admiral Cooling was Captain of the fifth from 2004-2006.

Illustrious Association members and their families had spent the weekend in Dorset for their annual meeting and Gala Dinner.

Some members travelled from as far away as the United States and Abu Dhabi.