OUTSIDE on the river, the Humber Rescue boat crew came alongside in tribute while inside a makeshift ‘tent hall’ Hessle Roaders, with their friends and families, gathered for the twenty-ninth annual Lost Trawlerman’s Day.
I am not a particularly religious man, so I stood at the back and paid my respects with the community I have lived among for more than thirty years.
A service was led by her grace Alison White, Bishop of Hull accompanied by Rev. Tony Cotson of the Fishermen’s Church, St John’s Newington and Tracey Oliver of the Hull Fishermen’s Mission.
St Andrew’s Dock Heritage Park Action Group (STAND) chairman Mr Ron Wilkinson gave a short speech in which he dedicated the day not only to the memory of the 6,000-plus men who left this great port never to return, but also to the women and children who grieved but fought on… and indeed still grieve and fight on to this day.
The service ended with the fisherman’s hymn Eternal Father best known of course from the phrase ‘for those in peril on the sea’ at the heart of it.
When it came time to sing I noticed that myself and other visitors were the only ones looking at the words printed in the order of service. It was sung from – and lives in – the heart of Hessle Road.
The service on the riverside shopping centre which was once the fish dock had an added poignancy as it coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the Triple Trawler Disaster of 1968 in which three ships; the St Romanus, Kingston Peridot and the Ross Cleveland sank with the loss of 58 men – and the remarkable survival of one (Harry Eddom, mate of the Ross Cleveland. The disaster also sparked an uprising led by Mrs Lillian Bilocca, Mrs Mary Denness, Mrs Yvonne Blenkinsop and Mrs Christine Smallbone (later Mrs Christine Jensen MBE). That campaign went all the way to Westminster and greatly improved the safety of the most dangerous industry on Earth.
After the service hundreds went to the river’s edge and cast flowers on the water as they do each year – I spoke with a tearful Lorna Denness, (daughter of campaigner Mary) and her infant son and shook hands with Ernie Bilocca, son of Lillian.
Many gathered to cast their flowers. I saw one man leave the service early, go to the river’s rail, throw a single flower upon the water and walk off with a quiet dignity that come only come from a grief many outside this community cannot understand.
History was set aside in favour of remembrance… remembrance of the courage, loyalty, resilience and dignity of the fisherman… and I must concur with Bishop White who pointed out in her sermon that it was little wonder that Jesus Christ counted so many of them among His disciples.