Since I wrote Stranded in the Six-Day War, people from around the world have been getting in touch with me. They tell me about their activities to keep alive the story of the ships stranded in the Suez Canal for eight years.
Last week, Peter Valdner sent a photo of the annual gathering of Slovak seafarers in Bratislava. Fifty years ago, they formed part of the Great Bitter Lake Association. It was a unique organisation that brought together all the seafarers on board the marooned craft – from a variety of nations on both sides of the Cold War. They developed a system for sharing goods and skills on the basis of need. Lively sports, social and art activities were organised to alleviate boredom.
Every year, Günter Schütt goes to the Nordwind get-together to meet with seafarers of that German ship. The Nordwind and the Münsterland, made a triumphant return to Hamburg under their own steam in 1975.
The story is spreading to new waters too. After extensive interviews with former seafarers in Germany and the UK and myself, an Egyptian team is producing an hour-long documentary for the Arabic news channel Al Jazeera.
Vivien Le from 99% Invisible is always on the look-out for intriguing material for her podcasts. ‘99% Invisible about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about.’ She is producing a podcast including interviews with former seafarers in the Great Bitter Lake. I helped Vivien with the research and participated too. The programme is due to air on 29 October in the USA (available 30 Oct in Europe).
I’ve always hoped that academics would delve into this unusual tale of international solidarity. Over the next few months, I’ll be giving seminars at both the University of Sussex and the University of Brighton.
At the moment, the Brexit debacle is tearing at the fabric of society, while deepening inequality is leading to a rise in poverty, homelessness and violent crime. It is good to remind ourselves that people can create peaceful communities in circumstances of conflict.