Leading Journal of the Irish & UK Fishing Industries

Remembering Hull’s Headscarf Revolutionaries on the first ever National Fishing Remembrance Day

The Seafarers’ Charity is commemorating National Fishing Remembrance Day by highlighting the legacy of the women in Hull fishing communities known as the “Headscarf Revolutionaries” who did so much to successfully campaign to change the law and improve fishing safety in the 1960s.

The first ever National Fishing Remembrance Day will take place on Sunday 12 May. The objective of this Remembrance Day is to remember those who have tragically lost their lives while working in commercial fishing. Fishing disasters impact not only immediate family and friends, but the wider fishing community too. To help prevent such tragic loss of life, The Seafarers’ Charity has committed resources to improve fishing safety now, and into the future.

To date The Seafarers’ Charity has co-funded a member of staff to lead on fishing safety at the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO). This means that safety improvements benefit the whole of the fishing industry and not just members of the NFFO. A series of short FISH SAFE information films, research on fishing vessel stability and an internationally recognised fishing safety management system have also been funded.  Find out more about how The Seafarers’ Charity is improving fishing safety.

Hull’s ‘Headscarf Revolutionaries’ were also committed to improving safety in commercial fishing. Their battle to improve safety in the fishing industry was immortalised in the book of the same name by Dr Brian Lavery. The book describes the terrible winter storms of 1968 which caused three Hull trawlers to be lost to the seas in as many weeks. A total of fifty-eight men died in this Triple Trawler Disaster. Such substantial loss galvanised their wives to campaign for greater safety in commercial fishing.

Led by Lillian Bilocca – herself a fishing wife – Big Lil, as she was known, mobilised hundreds in the Hull fishing community to take direct action to prevent undermanned trawlers from going to sea. This woman-led safety campaign culminated in a petition containing 10,000 signatures and a ‘Fishermen’s Charter’ that set out a number of legislative measures to strengthen safety in commercial fishing. The outcome of their successful campaign was achieved when Harold Wilson’s government implemented all of the safety measures outlined in the Charter. This result was described as one of the biggest and most successful civil actions of the 20th century. Mary Denness, one of the Headscarf Revolutionaries stated at the time that “we have achieved more in six weeks than the politicians and trade unions have in years”.

Lillian Bilocca and the Headscarf Revolutionaries’ successful campaign to improve safety in commercial fishing is deserving of retelling and sharing with a wider audience who recognise the inherent dangers for those working in commercial fishing. This is why The Seafarers’ Charity is sharing the inspirational story of the Headscarf Revolutionaries with a wider audience with the announcement of two events to mark the very first National Fishing Remembrance Day.

On 9-10 May we will be sharing the Headscarf Revolutionaries story at the Scottish Skipper Expo in Aberdeen. We hope to be joined on the exhibition stand by the author of Headscarf Revolutionaries, Dr Brian Lavery and to share more about the work of The Seafarers’ Charity to improve fishing safety.

On 16 May – The Seafarers’ Charity and Seafish have joined forces to bring a special one-off performance to the Cutty Sark, Greenwich. ’12 Silk Handkerchiefs’ tells the story of the Headscarf Revolutionaries accompanied by music from Reg Meuross. Tickets are available for £18 from Royal Museums Greenwich.