Merseyside Museum commemorates Six Day War anniversary
Merseyside Maritime Museum is looking for former seafarers who were on a stranded ship on the Suez Canal between June 1967 and June 1975, to attend a special 50th anniversary reunion at Merseyside Maritime Museum on Thursday 1 June.
14 merchant ships were marooned in the Great Bitter Lake, an area of the Suez Canal, at the start of the Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt. They were trapped there for eight years until Egypt reopened the canal in 1975. Four of the ships were British-flagged, including three from Liverpool shipping lines: MS Melampus and MS Agapenor from Blue Funnel Line, and MS Scottish Star from Blue Star Line. The fourth British ship was MS Port Invercargill of the London-based Port Line.
Though the original crews were replaced every couple of months, over the years around 3,000 seafarers served on the ships, maintaining them and their precious cargos. This period was the height of the Cold War. The ships may have come from both sides of the Iron Curtain, but as Ben Whittaker, Curator of Maritime History and Technology explains, it didn’t stop them forming their own ‘United Nations’.
“The ships were going nowhere, and over time, camaraderie grew between the crews, irrespective of their country of origin. Inspired by the part of the Suez Canal they were stuck in, they established what was to become a unique community; the Great Bitter Lake Association.
“They shared supplies and equipment, as well as created a full programme of sports fixtures and other social activities. The seafarers even produced their own hand-made stamps, which are now sought after collectors’ items.”
The move to appeal for former crew members was inspired by author Cath Senker, whose forthcoming book on the subject, Stranded in the Six Day War, features objects from the Blue Funnel Line Archive which are held at the Museum alongside a collection of objects related to the Great Bitter Lake Association. These include a commemorative plate and home-made trophies that were awarded to the winners of the competitions held on board the ships during the eight year long saga.
“We want former crew members to get in touch and join us on 1 June to share their stories and reminisce. Many members remember their time on the Suez Canal as one of the most significant of their entire lives. Through the internet, many of them have now renewed contact with each other, and interest in this unusual story has been revived. With Liverpool ships and men part of the story, Merseyside Maritime Museum is the appropriate place to hold the reunion”.
Visitors to the Museum will be able to see some of the objects on display throughout June, and they will feature more prominently in the Museum’s new Sea Galleries due to open in 2018.
If you or a family member were on one of the stranded ships on the Great Bitter Lake and want to share your story and be part of the reunion, please contact Ben. Telephone 0151 478 4401 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.