THE waving figure on the fisherman’s memorial in Hull reminds Beverley Prest so much of her Dad, that whenever she sees it she waves back.
She was just four when her father, Jim Wheeldon, the 26-year-old skipper of the St Romanus, which sailed on 10 January 1968, was lost with all hands, the first of three to sink in what became known as the Triple Trawler Tragedy. The ship had a poor reputation: “My Dad used to say it is like the dollshouse I am building Beverley - it’s not finished.”
Fifty years on, Hull is beginning a series of commemorations for the disasters which cost 58 lives and impacted on countless more. Beverley, who has her Dad’s guitar hanging on the wall at home, has missed his presence: “When I had my first driving test, all I wanted was Dad, little things, if I had a big interview.”
And some children could be cruel: “Because I didn’t have a Dad. I got called names at school - a b******.”
Her uncle Vic Wheeldon, was 22 and fishing, but at home with a crushed finger, when the tragedy unfolded. He recalled the last phone call Jim made telling his wife he was having trouble with the main radio set and if she heard nothing for a day or two that was probably the reason. “He cut the call short and said: ‘I’m going to have to go’ and that was the last we heard. A life raft was found (later). There was no evidence anybody had been in it.” He had no qualms about continuing at sea but switched companies, disillusioned with the “blase” attitude of owners Thomas Hamling. He still thinks of his brother every day: “The old platitude time will heal - it doesn’t. You come to terms, you accept it, but it doesn’t heal. To me he is just how he was at the time: happy, very dedicated to his job, a great family man.”
Whenever she hears country singer Jim Reeves, Kath Chatterton thinks of husband, Pete Smith, the 31-year-old mate on the Kingston Peridot, which also left Hull on January 10. On board, also, was his brother Robert, a deckhand. By January 26 she was fishing off north-east Iceland in foul weather, and having difficulties with ice building up. News of her loss came as hope was fading for the St Romanus.
Mrs Chatterton, then 24, was walking up Subway Street with her toddler Dave and four-year-old daughter Janice, when her Mam came running down: “She said Kingston Peridot’s missing. I said: “You’ve got the wrong one.” So we go back and put the TV on. Nothing. The Mission came to inform us the ship was missing - no one had phones in those days.”
It was a “horrible, awful” time of not knowing. Financially she was able to cope and people were “so generous.”
“Because the men were away all the time, life just went on, it had to. We had my mother-in-law next door and she was lovely - but she never looked up afterwards - you can’t imagine losing two children.”
Lost Trawlerman’s Day being held at noon next Sunday at the memorial site at St Andrew’s Quay will concentrate on “those left behind” - the widows and the families.
Meanwhile Hull Bullnose Heritage Group, which held a wreath-laying on Thursday for St Romanus, is organising two further events at the junction of Hessle Road and the Boulevard, for Kingston Peridot on January 26, and the third ship, Ross Cleveland on February 5.
Hull Minster will host a commemorative service on March 4.