Turning the Tide: The 1968 Trawler Tragedy and the Wives’ Campaign for Safety

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A mural celebrating the achievements of the Headscarf Revolutionaries off Anlaby Road in central Hull (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

As part of the University of Hull’s series of events to mark International Women’s Day in 2019, there was a special performance of Turning the Tide: The 1968 Trawler Tragedy and the Wives’ Campaign for Safety, a multimedia production about some of Hull’s most inspirational women. Since moving to Hull at the end of 2018 I have seen, heard, and read, quite a lot about the Triple Trawler Tragedy and the women who fought for better safety conditions on the trawlers (frequently known as the Headscarf Revolutionaries). It is a story I will never get tired of hearing, and Turning the Tide was a fantastic way of telling it.

Using a combination of storytelling, recorded interviews, film, images, and folk songs, Turning the Tide paints an evocative picture of the close-knit Hessle Road fishing community in the late 1960s, the dangerous conditions in which the fishermen worked, the restrictive gender roles forced upon women, the loss of the three trawlers, and the women’s campaign to improve safety standards and prevent further tragedy. Turning the Tide, devised and directed by Rupert Creed, is the result of the efforts of several groups, including the Hull Truck Theatre and the Centre for Contemporary Storytelling. The storytellers were Joan Venus-Evans, Mike Emberton and Rupert Creed, with songs performed by Hissyfit (a.k.a. Linda Kelly and Hazel Richings). I think that performances such as this are an excellent way of communicating history, they strike an excellent balance of entertaining and informative (I reviewed a similar performance by folk band the Young’uns recently, which you can see here). The performance was followed by a panel discussion featuring Jean Shakesby (a Hessle Roader who lost her father at sea, and who took part in the safety campaign), Lorna Denness (daughter of campaigner Mary Denness), Natalie Taylor (campaigner and member of the Strong Women of Hessle Road group) and Emma Hardy MP.

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The Turning the Tide panel. Left to right: Jean Shakesby, Lorna Denness, Emma Hardy MP, Natalie Taylor and Rupert Creed (Photo: Jason Addison).

The performance and the panel discussion really brought to life several key issues related to International Women’s Day for me. The first is the strikingly sharp gender roles that were an unquestioned feature of the Hessle Road fishing community before 1968. Women were involved in the industry, many of them worked cleaning and processing the fish, and they kept their families going whilst the men were away for three weeks at a time. However, women were completely segregated from the fishing itself, to the extent that it was considered bad luck for a woman to go down to the docks to wave a ship off. Many of the women involved in the safety campaign faced verbal abuse, harassment, death threats, and even physical violence for daring to interfere in the men’s business.

Turning the Tide also highlighted the opportunity that protest campaigns and similar events can be for women to dramatically alter their life path. The women who took part in the safety campaign were not hardened activists, they were housewives and working mothers, many of whom had never spoken in public before. Through the campaign, they developed new skills, and learnt that their lives could be very different. After the campaign, Mary Denness got divorced and became a school nurse, going on to become a matron at Eton College. Christine Jensen [neé Gay and formerly Smallbone] continued to campaign, serving on the committee of the British Fishermen’s Association and founding a fishing heritage organisation called Stand. She was awarded an MBE in 2000. There are multiple examples like this in recent history, where women rejected a situation which they could no longer accept, and gained a new awareness of their potential in the process. Activism can empower women far beyond the initial protest or campaign they took part in.

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The performers of Turning the Tide take a bow (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Moments like International Women’s Day are an opportunity to use to past to reflect on the present. In many ways women’s rights have come a long way since the days of the Headscarf Revolutionaries. For centuries, women have been taking opportunities like the Trawler Safety Campaign to broaden their horizons, develop their skills and demonstrate their abilities. The rigid gender roles of the Hessle Road fishing community in the late 1960s are not nearly as common in the UK as they used to be. But in other ways, there is still a long way to go. Wonderful stories like the the Trawler Safety Campaign have the power to make you feel inspired and confident about the struggles that are still to be won. Events like Turning the Tide celebrate these stories and ensure they don’t get forgotten.

Turbulent Westminster: Time to Act and Million Women Rise Marches

Westminster was very busy on Saturday (the 7th of March), with both the Time to Act and Million Women Rise marches taking place. No sooner did the end of the Climate Change march pass Trafalgar Square towards Parliament Square, than Million Women Rise entered the square for a rally, demonstrating just how important this small area of London is to British politics. The marches represented very different issues, with Time to Act calling for urgent changes to the way we deal with climate change, and Million Women Rise demanding an end to male violence against women, tying in with International Women’s Day on the 8th of March. The beautiful weather combined with the bright placards creative chants and upbeat atmosphere to create a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle. Here are some of my photos from the day.

People had come from all over the country to protest against issues related to climate change in their local area, but  there were several London groups.

People had come from all over the country to protest against issues related to climate change in their local area, but there were several London groups (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

People of all ages attended the march....

People of all ages attended the march…. (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

...from the young...

…from the young… (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

...to the old, several generations were represented by the demonstrators. I think climate change marches tend to be more friendly and safe events than protests around some issues.

…to the old, several generations were represented by the demonstrators. I think climate change marches tend to be more friendly and safe events than protests around some issues (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This group stopped in front of a McDonalds to help make their point.

This group stopped in front of a McDonalds to help make their point (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

As usual, there were generic placards printed large numbers by groups such as the Green Party, the CND, and Left Unity...

As usual, there were generic placards printed large numbers by groups such as the Green Party, the CND, and Left Unity… (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

...as well as home-made efforts, which frequently take a comic approach to the issues.

…as well as home-made efforts, which frequently take a comic approach to the issues (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Lots of issues were represented in the Time to Act march, including fossil fuels, TTIP, runways and Trident. Drax is a coal-fired power station in Yorkshire that provides about 7% of the UK's electricity supply.

Lots of issues were represented in the Time to Act march, including fossil fuels, TTIP, runways and Trident. Drax is a coal-fired power station in Yorkshire that provides about 7% of the UK’s electricity supply (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This contingent from Oxford brought their own band. Music is a really important part of protest marches, helping to left the mood and keep the marchers upbeat and energised.

This contingent from Oxford brought their own band. Music is a really important part of protest marches, helping to left the mood and keep the marchers upbeat and energised (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Whilst fracking was a popular topic of disdain for the marchers, this gentleman decided to focus on tar sands.  Tar sands is not a method of fossil fuel extraction that is used in the UK, but many contemporary activists take an international approach to their campaigning.

Whilst fracking was a popular topic of disdain for the marchers, this gentleman decided to focus on tar sands. Tar sands is not a method of fossil fuel extraction that is used in the UK, but many contemporary activists take an international approach to their campaigning (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This protester brought his bike along, presumably to promote the environmentally -friendly form of travel. The placard in his basket is a play on Shell's logo and name.

This protester brought his bike along, presumably to promote the environmentally -friendly form of travel. The placard in his basket is a play on Shell’s logo and name (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

One of the last placards of the Time to Act march was this one, calling for spectators to join the march.

One of the last placards of the Time to Act march was this one, calling for spectators to join the march (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The Million Women Rise march arrived in Trafalgar Square just as the last Time to Act protester passed by. They too had many mass-produced placards.

The Million Women Rise march arrived in Trafalgar Square just as the last Time to Act protester passed by. They too had many mass-produced placards (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

But there were also home-made placards too, like this one.

But there were also home-made placards too, like this one (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Although violence against women is a more focussed topic than climate change, other issues were still brought in by demonstrators, such as this sign about migration.

Although violence against women is a more focussed topic than climate change, other issues were still brought in by demonstrators, such as this sign about migration (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Lots of different groups were represented on the march, from a huge variety of backgrounds. From Essex… (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

 

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…to Kurdistan, each group had a different style and approach (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This was one of my favourite banners from the day, with the bright colours and striking imagery. Unfortunately, I doubt it will ever be seen in the National Gallery! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Most marches end with a rally, witch speakers, and sometimes music. The Million Women Rise stage was set up in front of Nelson's Column.

Most marches end with a rally, with speakers, and sometimes music. The Million Women Rise stage was set up in front of Nelson’s Column (Photo: Hannah Awcock).