Keeping the GBLA community alive

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.

Bratislava GBLA gathering
GBLA gathering in Bratislava, Aug 2019 (Peter Valdner)

The Nordwind

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.

Nordwind gathering 2019
Nordwind gathering. Sept 2019 (Günter Schütt)

Al Jazeera

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.

99% Invisible

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).

Entering academia

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.

Peaceful communities

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.



10 thoughts on “Keeping the GBLA community alive”

  1. To say it was an experience of a lifetime would be something of an understatement!
    As an apprentice deck officer I saw and heard pretty much everything that happened on the opening day (5 June 1967) of the Six Day War from being the first person on the bridge of the Agapenor (Blue Funnel) to spot the Israelis attacking the airfield and destroying anything that vaguely looked like a plane before anchoring in the Great Bitter Lake.
    We naturally feared the worst and really just wanted to leave as soon as we were able. It was no place for an unarmed merchant ship to be that had a lot of ammunition on board in what had become a “war zone”. Personally I suspected that we might become hostages, or bargaining chips for the Egyptians. The great irony is that the war did not resolve all the issues that lay at the heart of the dispute…

  2. Greetings Peter, just to say hello and how nice to find a fellow Agapenor crew member sharing the same experience of the opening air raid. Also the following ‘ hostage ‘ experience. I believe you were allowed home after 6 weeks.
    Wishing you all the best, Peted Flack

    1. Dear Cath. Many thanks for the copy of Stranded in the Six-Day War purchased from you recently. As a long-term collector of GBLA stamps and memorabilia I found this absolutely fascinating and could not put it down, Having read Brian Macmanus”s book also, it filled in a lot of empty spaces for me. I have one of the largest collections of GBLA stamps in England. I really enjoyed it.

      Best wishes,


      1. Dear Peter Barrall, Thank you very much for your comment. I am so pleased that you enjoyed my book. Captain Brian McManus’s book was invaluable to me for research and I had the pleasure to meet him at the 50th anniversary reunion in Liverpool on 1 June 2017. I’m interested to hear that you have one of the largest collections of GBLA stamps. Stamp production is one of the most fascinating aspects of the whole story.

      2. dear Peter,
        I tried to write to you via email but your address is non-existent.

        Is the address you wrote correct?



  3. Greetings to everyone,

    I’m also fascinated by the experience of the crews of the 14 captive ships in the Great Bitter Lake!
    I wrote articles and told about the GBLA at a conference in Italy.
    It’s a fantastic story!
    I collect labels and envelopes from GBLA.
    I have Captain Hill’s book, is there more news and images in Cath’s book?
    Sorry for my bad English!
    Do you have any material? I miss many labels of those shown in the book.
    Thank you for your attention and I hope you contact me by email
    rosalba.pigini @

  4. FROM [email protected]
    Cath, I have received today my copy of your excellent book today. Congratulations on it.
    Are you still in touch with GBLA members (or their descendents)?
    I am a postal historian researcher, writing for no payment for British academic journals such as “The London Philatelist”. I am not interested in the various designs made by crew members and applied to their outgoing-mail (of great interest to many, I know), but I AM interested in any mail addressed TO the ships, which seems to have been overlooked. I have images of one such envelope (but not the original, alas) from Czechoslovakia addressed to Ing.Knrouek, m/s Lednice, Suez, Egypt.
    Is there any possibility that you could use your links with GBLA members to get scans (preferably 300 dpi, or better) of the front and back of any such mail? It seems to me that here is a story waiting to be told to an audience probably totally ignorant of this fascinating nugget of history.
    If you can get even one such item, I think it would be worth writing about it for a journal of postal history. If you would like to join me in such I would welcome that.
    I look forward to hearing from you.
    With best wishes for 2020 and my renewed congratulations,

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