A retired auxiliary nurse, Gill’s own seafaring connections make her an ideal facilitator for Seafarers Link. She leads a regular telephone group for seafarers’ wives in Hull, as well as covering a men’s group when needed.
Gill’s great-grandfather, grandfather and two uncles were all seafarers, so it was no surprise when she married a fisherman herself in her teens. Sadly, her husband Charlie was lost at sea following a fire on Christmas Day in 1966 – leaving her with a baby and another on the way, at the age of just 19.
A few years later, Gill married another fisherman and they had a son and daughter together. John quickly got his bosun’s ticket and was a skipper at the age of 24. But tragedy struck again, when they lost their son to Leukaemia. Then, in 2001, John collapsed and died on board ship.
Despite these terrible losses, Gill at 65 is a lively and positive force. “I retired five years ago after a cartilage operation on my knee and now I’ve never got two minutes! My daughters and great-granddaughters keep me busy and I do a lot of charity work.
“I volunteer with the Mission for Deep Sea Fishermen in Hull. I’m on the committee and I do a lot of fundraising and organise events. They asked me if I’d like to do Seafarers Link. It all keeps me sane and busy.”
Although Hull’s a big city, Gill found that she already knew some of the other facilitators and a couple of the seafarers’ wives who wanted to join her group. “We mainly live quite close and we have things in common,” she says.
“I find the group good. People are very lonely when they retire. These days, some people are always lonely at home, until they go to work the next day.”
“Most of the group members are old or housebound and they look forward to it. Whether you make one person’s day or 10, it makes it worthwhile.”
Retired seafarer and publican Tony ‘Mac’ has been running Seafarers’ Link groups for several years now and he thinks they are a great idea.
Tony was a steward in the Merchant Navy for 20 years, from the age of 15, working with several different companies.
When he came ashore, Tony went to work in the licensed trade, firstly as a steward at an RAF club, then with a leisure group. Once he had his publican’s licence, he took on the management of a pub in Manchester. Later, he managed a club at a holiday caravan park.
Retiring in 2000, Tony started givng talks about life at sea and the White Star Line. “But now it’s all the Titanic – it’s taken over my life!” It was through this that he was asked to do Seafarers’ Link.
“On Mondays I help facilitate a phone group with other seafarers and on Wednesdays I do a group with fishermen in their 80s. I do another with officers, who made it a career. I was just a rating!”
“People come from as far south as Whitstable and Felixstowe. We have two on the south coast and we had one in the Midlands. There’s a group from Merseyside and the Wirral, and I live near Blackpool. It makes it interesting that we didn’t all do the same jobs in the same areas.”