50th anniversary reunion of seafarers stranded in the Suez Canal

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.

Group shot (National Museums Liverpool)

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

Penny Jamieson reading a poem by her father Captain Bryan Hill (National Museums Liverpool)
Peter Flack, George Wharton and Malcolm Morrison with me (National Museums Liverpool).
Peter Flack with Captain Brian McManus and his son (Ruby Cardona)
Peter Gasson (Ruby Cardona)

 

13 thoughts on “50th anniversary reunion of seafarers stranded in the Suez Canal”

  1. hi cath I was at the reunion nice to have met some old shipmates including my old mate Dave Parry who was with me on the melampus in june 1967 I have got some photos of the rescue of Egypian soldiers if I hadknow about your book beforehand you might have used them for your book If you would like to have these photos please get intouch with me on 01695 340319 or email

  2. After I originally commented I seem to have clicked the -Notify me
    when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I recieve 4 emails
    with the exact same comment. There has to be a means you can remove me from that service?
    Cheers!

    1. Hello

      I am sorry about that. I cannot see your original comment. Did you comment under a different name? I could delete your comment and if you’d like to keep it there, simply copy it as a new comment but don’t click ‘notify me’. Otherwise, I can simply delete it.

  3. Ann McKinnon(maiden name)

    I can remember my mother sitting worrying over my father being caught up in the Suez while he was with the Benline ships

    1. Thanks for your comment Ann. It must have been extremely worrying for all the relatives of seafarers who were in the Suez Canal area at the time. I spoke to some of them when I was researching my book ‘Stranded in the Six-Day War’ and included the story of Margaret McMorine, newly wed to Graham, who was trapped on one of the ships, not knowing when they’d be able to escape the Suez Canal. Most of the crews were stuck for well over 2 months.

  4. Oh dear, I have missed something I wanted to do after so many years.
    I say this as I was a Galley boy on the Scottish Star right at the beginning of being trapped in the Suez, I was about 16½ when that eventful time happened. I would have loved to have attended the reunion, but due to illness, I can not travel so far (COPD). I live in Germany, in fact, I joined the Army after getting back to the UK and was posted to Germany January 1968 have stayed ever since, which is where I say a German TV program about the two German ships that were also stuck in the Suez and had formed a group and had reunions in Hamburg, which brought instant memories back, I was able to tell my wife and kids about what happened. I will indeed get hold of your book and thanks for doing it.
    Kind Regards
    Alistair Wort

    1. Dear Alistair Wort
      Thank you very much for buying my book – I hope it has brought back many memories. There’s a section in the last chapter about the Hamburg reunion – I also saw that German programme. I know that the German former crew members who were in the Great Bitter Lake meet up every year in Regensburg, in September. Please get in touch if you would like their contact details.

        1. Hi Alistair, apologies for the delay in replying – I have been away on holiday. I will pass on your email address to Siegfried Hellwig so that he can provide details of the German get-togethers. Best wishes

          Cath

          1. Hi Cath, well, I and my wife meet up with Siggy and about 15 members of the Nordwind and I think two from the Munsterland.
            It was a very pleasant afternoon and brought back memories and cleared up a few points. I have asked Siggy for any photo’s that he and any of the crew took that afternoon, My camera was still sitting on the kitchen table. Question for you: I was given a letter (s) from a Jim Starkey who had written to Uwe Carstens about prices and items to do with the GBLA, Do you know if this gent was at the last reunion? If and when I can use my new printer I would / will send you the letters, there is an address on it, but I have no idea what year they were written.

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