Sergeant Ernest Almayrac served in the Free French Air Force during World War Two. He was born on 25th April 1918 in Mont de Marsan, Southern France. Having escaped occupied France in July 1940, he joined the British Army in The Gambia in August that year.
Alternative spellings of Sergeant Ernest Joseph Gabriel Almayrac’s name include Almoyroc and Almeyrec. His military documentation confirms Almayrac as the correct spelling.
In Tom Hartley’s book ‘Belfast City Cemetery: The History Of Belfast, Written In Stone’, Almoyroc’s (sic) cause of death is “cut eye and blackwater fever”. He underwent treatment at Campbell College Military Hospital, Belfast, Co. Antrim but his illness proved fatal. He died at the Belfast hospital aged 23 on 25th September 1940.
Information from ‘Croix de Lorraine et Croix du Sud 1940-1942 – Aviateurs Belges et de la France Libre en Afrique’ indicates Ernest Almayrac was a mechanic on board the SS Aska. An enemy plane bombed the ship on 16th September 1940 as it carried hundreds of French troops from Bathurst, Gambia to Liverpool.
Three other Free French Air Force men died on board the SS Aska. Sergeant Jean Conrad (31349) was buried in Scotland. Sergeant Clifford Dace (31342) and Sergeant Paul Mauricet (31343) were never recovered from the Atlantic Ocean.
Sinking of the SS Aska
At 0230hrs the Aska was between Rathlin Island and Maiden’s Rock in the Western Approaches. The ship zig-zagged to evade the enemy. As a plane passed overhead, it was first thought it was an RAF craft. Moments later, two bombs tore through the engineers’ accommodation area. They exploded as they struck the engine room.
The ship plunged into darkness. Fire raced through the accommodation blocks and along the deck. A third bomb struck the forecastle and the Aska’s Captain gave the command to abandon ship.
The crew lowered boats into the Irish Sea. Fishing trawlers picked up survivors, carrying them to HMS Jason for transport to Greenock. Six engineers, six crew members, and nineteen troops perished. The abandoned ship ran aground on Cara Island.
Remembering Ernest Almayrac
According to ‘Cap Sans Retours’ by Germaine l’Herbier-Montagnon, Almayrac was posthumously awarded the following honours:
- Croix de Guerre 1939-1945 (Listed in Journal Officiel de la République Française 17th December 1949).
- Médaille Militaire sans Croix de Guerre (Issued on 5th January 1950. Listed in Journal Officiel de la République Française 10th January 1950).
He is one of 412 Free French Airmen to die serving France in World War Two. The story that takes place between his rescue from the wreck of the SS Aska and death in Belfast remains undocumented.
Sergeant Almayrac was buried three days after death on 28th September 1940. He was first buried in the Glenalina Extension, Section CS, Grave 86 of Belfast City Cemetery, Belfast, Co. Antrim. On 15th November 1950, he was repatriated to a cemetery in Aire-sur-l’Adour, near his home town in France.