Flares tribute for 50th Christmas shipwreck anniversary

Jerry Thompson, chairman of Hull Fishing Heritage Centre
Image caption,Jerry Thompson is chairman of Hull Fishing Heritage Centre

By Jo Makel

BBC News

A former trawlerman who survived a Christmas Day shipwreck 50 years ago is to pay a special tribute to three crew members who lost their lives.

Three men died when the Hull trawler Ian Fleming ran aground off the north Norwegian coast in 1973.

At just 17, Jerry Thompson was the youngest aboard and said he owed his life to the radio operator, who died.

This Christmas Day, he will mark the exact time of the wreck by lighting three flares in memory of the dead men.

“I thought was going to die,” Mr Thompson said. “I’m not ashamed to say this, I did cry out for my Mam.

“The radio operator, George Lee, who sent out the May Day call is buried near my father.

“So every Christmas Day I always put a single rose on his grave in honour of him saving my life.”

Mr Thompson said this year was a “big milestone” in his life.

The Ian Fleming trawler
Image caption,The Ian Fleming trawler was wrecked on Christmas Day 1973 off the north Norwegian coast

At 19:10 GMT on Christmas Day, he said three members of his family would go to the lock gates at Hull’s old fish dock and discharge three flares in honour of the three dead crew.

“We think it’s a fitting thing to do,” he said.

“We’re not going to be here in 50 years’ time and it’s in their memory.”

Recalling the night of the tragedy, Mr Thompson explained how they had sailed into a Norwegian fjord near Havoysund to shelter from bad weather and to have a peaceful Christmas Day.

“At ten past 7 on Christmas night, I was sat in the mess deck, nice and warm, in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt,” he said.

“Then the engine stopped. We were turning. Then all of a sudden, the ship was picked up like a tin can. We were just all thrown about.

“Great seas were churning her, and you could hear the grinding of steel and rocks. We could smell diesel straight away so her tanks had been bust.”

Jerry Thompson (left) on-board a trawler as a young man
Image caption,Jerry Thompson (left) working on a Hull trawler as a young man

Fearful the trawler would overturn, Mr Thompson was one of 15 men who had to leap from the ship into a life raft at the ship’s stern.

“I cannot remember the cold because of the adrenaline,” he said.

“The sheer panic of survival. Especially when the lights went out.

“To hear other men screaming and shouting for their wives and the kids, it was a terrible 10 minutes of my life and I’ll never forget it.”

Mr Thompson held up flares to attract a rescue boat. And the 15 men, he said, crammed into its small cabin. Some were sick from swallowing diesel.

But a second life raft, launched from the middle of the ship, had overturned, plunging five men, including the skipper, into the icy sea.

One man was washed back on to the ship, from where he was rescued. The skipper was also found, lucky to be alive.

Life ring and crew list from the Ian Fleming shipwrecked trawler
Image caption,A life ring and crew list from the Ian Fleming are kept at Hull Fishing Heritage Centre

Tragically, three men, engineer Dennis Colby, 45, mate Terence Day, 35, and radio operator George Lee, 26, all died. Their bodies were recovered.

Mr Thompson and the others only discovered the men had been lost when they arrived at hospital.

To help with the language barrier, the survivors all wrote their names on a piece of paper. They left a gap and later wrote in the names of the men who died.

Remarkably that piece of paper was kept and presented to http://tampansamping.com Mr Thompson along with a life ring from the ship when he returned to Norway four years ago.

They are now displayed in Hull Fishing Heritage Centre on Hessle Road, where Mr Thompson is chairman.

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