The Seafarer’s Charity hosted a stunning performance on 16 May of 12 Silk Handkerchiefs, a narrated and musical commemoration of the Triple Trawler Tragedy that rocked Hull in 1968. Held on the bank of the river Thames, the event followed a drinks reception on the deck of the Cutty Sark, attended by over 200 people.

Guests included fishermen’s representatives from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as trustees of The Seafarer’s Charity and representatives from Fishing into the Future, the Seafarers’ Hospital Society, the Sailors’ Children’s Society, The Fishmongers’ Company, CHIRP Maritime, SAIL and Fishing Animateur.

The Seafarer’s Charity chair Paul Butterworth speaking to guests, along with Seafish CEO Marcus Coleman. Looking on are NFFO chair Chris Ranford, chief executive of the CFPO, and NFFO president Paul Gilson and his wife. (Photos: Alisia Green)

The event was, said The Seafarers’ Charity, not only a chance to highlight the success of the first National Fishing Remembrance Day but ‘an opportunity for our chair Paul Butterworth to publicly thank the many fabulous staff and volunteers from the Fishermen’s Mission and Stella Maris who gave their time on Sunday, 12 May to deliver poignant remembrance services around the UK’.

“So many people have worked hard to make this first National Fishing Remembrance Day happen, and we also have a big thank you to Seafish for co- sponsoring the performance and to Royal Museums Greenwich for their partnership in allowing us to enjoy the Cutty Sark as a very special venue for this event.”

Speaking at the drinks event ahead of the performance, Paul Butterworth said: “National Fishing Remembrance Day has been two or three years in the making. It is something that will continue for years to come, and I want to thank all of you here for helping make it happen.

“Fishing is still the most dangerous career, even after all the progress made. All too often it takes a tragedy to make change happen, as the story of the headscarf heroines will tell us.”

Marcus Coleman, CEO of Seafish, said: “Those that have died at sea deserve our remembrance and respect. The remembrance day itself, and tonight’s event, which Seafish is delighted to sponsor, reminds us of the need to put health and safety at the top of fishermen’s agenda.”

Lillian Bilocca and the Headscarf Revolutionaries

A collaboration between Hull fisheries historian Brian W Lavery, who is no stranger to the pages of FN and has worked tirelessly to keep Hull’s fishing heritage and memories alive, and folk singer Reg Meuross, 12 Silk Handkerchiefs takes its name from one of the last actions of ‘Big Lil’ Bilocca as she lay dying in hospital in Hull in 1988. She instructed her daughter to buy 12 handkerchiefs as a thank you to the various medical and support staff who had worked to make her comfortable in her last days.

Narrator Dan McGarry, Reg Meuross and Sam Martyn at the start of the performance of 12 Silk Handkerchiefs.

Lillian Bilocca came to national fame following the Triple Trawler Tragedy in the winter of 1968, when three Hull vessels on Iceland trips were lost in the space of less than a month. Fifty-eight men died, with just one survivor. With the whole town in shock, it was the women of Hull who organised a campaign to bring about radical change to health and safety conditions across the Hull fleet, at a time when large companies dominated the industry, and profit was everything.

Historic photos illustrating the songs and narration were an integral part of the evening, bringing to life the events before and after the Triple Trawler Tragedy of 1968.

12 Silk Handkerchiefs narrates the events before, during and after the tragedy, interspersed with songs conveying the views of the various people involved. It follows the ships leaving St Andrew’s Dock on their fateful final trips, and tells the story of the campaign and the eventual ousting of Lillian Bilocca from the committee she had helped to set up.

Remarkably well told, with Dan McGarry filling in as narrator for Brian Lavery, who was unable to attend due to medical issues, the performance of the 12 readings and songs held the audience throughout, before a standing ovation.

The impressive venue, in a hall underneath the polished cladding of the Cutty Sark’s hull, on a stage fronted by numerous historical ships’ figureheads, certainly helped the atmosphere.

12 Silk Handkerchiefs is available as a download, or via streaming services.

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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