55 years on, brother remembers skipper, 26, lost in the Triple Trawler Tragedy

The terrible last words of skipper Phil Gay have gone down in history: “I am going over. We are laying over. Help us, Len, she’s going. Give my love and the crew’s love to the wives and families.”

Ross Cleveland was the the third trawler to succumb to nature's ferocity within 26 days in a catastrophic episode in Hull's fishing history.

In total 58 men perished, an unprecedented blow even for a community used to losing its menfolk, who traditionally fished the wild northern seas. The sinking of Ross Cleveland, around this time in 1968, along with the St Romanus and Kingston Peridot, and so many others, will be remembered as hundreds gather in Hull’s Fisherman's Church on Lost Trawlerman's Day.

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Vic Wheeldon's eldest brother, Jim, was the 26-year-old skipper of the St Romanus, which sailed on 10 January 1968.

55 years on Hull, remembers Triple Trawler Tragedy55 years on Hull, remembers Triple Trawler Tragedy
55 years on Hull, remembers Triple Trawler Tragedy

The St Romanus went down in the North Sea - where is still not known.

Vic was 22 and fishing, but at home with a crushed finger, over the weeks the tragedy unfolded.

He recalls the "numbness" that set in and the fading hope that the ship's radio had broken down. "As time goes on and the life raft is found and a life ring, you do realise that the end was there," he said.

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Vic, the vice chairman of fishing heritage charity Stand, says the loss of his brother is "still very raw".

Jim "like any older brother (was) a role model and hero".

What makes it particularly difficult for those who lose loved ones at sea is the inability to hold a funeral, be able to visit a grave.

"With Cleveland we knew where she went, with Peridot it was similar as wreckage was found, but with Ross Cleveland it is still unscheduled. We all have our theories about how she sank.

"She has not been searched for. It just wasn't something you did at the time." The repercussions of what came to be known as the Triple Trawler Tragedy went far beyond the city.

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Wives, mothers and sisters, fearful of the mounting toll of widowhood, rebelled against their men and the industry and campaigned for greater on-board safety. They came to be known as the Headscarf Revolutionaries

"There was no strict regulation for ships reporting in to companies at home until after this.

"Then the headscarf brigade ran their campaign and it became mandatory for ships to be in contact on a regular basis, that was a huge step forward," said Vic.

However the loss of the fishing grounds due to disputes with countries like Norway meant the industry was on its knees by the mid 70s, when many people like Vic sidestepped into the Merchant Navy.

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Now the city has only huge trawler, Kirkella, registered in Hull.

A service is usually held on the banks of the Humber, but this year it will be held at St John the Baptist Church, St George’s Road, led by by Rev Tony Cotson at noon on Sunday.

Vic said: "We are surprised but gratified by the extent that families of those who were lost are still their showing their support."It is a significant date in our calendar."

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