How often, when we sit down to enjoy a plate of fish and chips, do we stop to think about what was involved in getting the fish from the sea to our plates. This weekend provides a stark reminder of the dangers faced by the fishermen who go to sea in all weathers. Events are taking place this weekend in both North Shields and Hull to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the tragic loss of the deep-sea trawler the Gaul, which sank in the Barents Sea with the loss of all 36 crew members. This was the greatest loss of life there has been from the sinking of a single fishing vessel. Thirty of these men were from the vessel’s home port, Hull, the other six were all from North Shields.
One of our volunteers, who was teaching at Linskill High School at the time, recalls the day the news of the tragedy broke.
“The whole school was in a state of shock and the atmosphere was very sombre. It was difficult to focus on anything else. There were a few children who were directly affected having lost a relative and others who had known them. Many of those who were not directly affected were still from the fishing community or knew people who were and felt their loss. It was a painful reminder that fishing was no ordinary job, it was one where danger was ever present.”
The Gaul was a large trawler, a factory ship, with a relatively large crew. It had only entered service in 1972 and had originally been registered in North Shields as Ranger Castor SN18. A year later it was re-registered in Hull as Gaul H243. It was not uncommon for fishermen from North Shields to be working on vessels from other fishing ports. The company lost radio contact with the Gaul on the evening of 8th February 1974 and it was officially declared lost the following day.
Today, on the 50th anniversary of the official declaration of the loss of the Gaul, the North Shields Fishermen’s Heritage Project group arranged a simple ceremony at Fiddlers Green Memorial, to mark the occasion. A lament was played by a lone piper followed by a minute’s silence. If there was a need to remind people of the appalling conditions that the ship faced on that fateful day, the Northeast weather did its best to play it’s part with driving wind and rain.
The Association of Retired Fishermen and the Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen have also organised a service to take place at the memorial on Saturday 10th February at 11:00am.