Yesterday, around 100 people attended the 50th anniversary reunion at the Merseyside Maritime Museum of seafarers who were stranded in the Suez Canal at the outbreak of the Six-Day War. On 5 June 1967, 14 merchant ships of eight nations from both sides of the Cold War were trapped in the Great Bitter Lake, and those vessels were stuck there for a full eight years.
The mostly British and one German seafarer came from across the globe to join the gathering, including from the UK, Ireland, Germany, the Canary Islands, Panama and Thailand.
I spoke about how I discovered and researched this unusual and little-known story, and how curator Ben Whittaker and I worked to turn the idea for the anniversary event into reality. The seafarers talked about their widely varying experiences: the shock of being trapped on 5 June 1967; the extraordinary range of social and sporting activities organised by the community they formed, the Great Bitter Lake Association; and the task of preparing the ships for their eventual departure in 1975. We watched some secretly filmed footage of the ships in the canal that had never before been viewed in public.
Some of those attending had not met for 50 years, since they worked together on the ships. There were emotional reunions as people discovered former shipmates. They swapped stories and showed photos, memorabilia, articles and letters they had kept safe to this day. Several had contributed their tales to my book, ‘Stranded in the Six-Day War,’ which was officially launched at the event.
One former seafarer said, ‘I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for organising the reunion. Today I’ve met 14 of the people who were stranded with me in the Great Bitter Lake. Never since those events 50 years ago have I been able to discuss what it was like to be trapped in the Suez Canal with others who shared the experiences with me.’
My book, Stranded in the Six-Day War, was launched at the event and is available from www.cathsenker.co.uk