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Mini-Olympic Games Football Trophy - Research Dossier The Great Bitter Lake Association Joe Raine

January 2013

The Great Bitter Lake Association was the name given to a sporting and social association formed by the crews of 15 ships trapped in the Suez Canal . In 1967 15 cargo ships from 8 countries were trapped in the Suez Canal by the beginning of the 6 day war between Israel and Egypt, the ships would remain for 8 years battered by the harsh winds and covered by the desert sands and became known as the Yellow Fleet. The ships trapped were as follows;

The British ship Melampus was unfortunate to be trapped as it was ordered by the British government to stop in Aden, after a trip to Columbo, apparently to take on board ammunition. After this unexpected stop it was put to the crew to vote on whether, with the escalating situation in Suez, they should chance the canal or instead head around the Cape of South Africa. The vote decided that they should try the canal, after an uneventful journey through the Red Sea the ship entered the Great Bitter Lake, never to leave again under its own power. They found large numbers of ships, including passenger vessels and tankers, attempting to pass through the canal. Egyptian authorities recognised the potential for disaster and began to move ships out of immediate danger. 50 ships were moved but before the Melampus had its chance news filtered through that the lake had been cut off by a sunken ship at one end and a concrete barrier at the other. Later in the day Israeli fighters bombed an Egyptian airbase on the Western shore of the lake. In the words of Graham McMorine, 4th Engineer on the Melampus; 'the Egyptian Migs never got off the ground, it was like watching Indians encircling a wagon train in the old cowboy films. Stray bullets flew everywhere and rockets flew just over the top of the rigging. The fighting slowly eased off as the day went on and it was decided to "blackout" the ship for the night.


The fighting continued until the 11th of June when a ceasefire between Egypt and Israel was announced and in an incident which both involved their respective vessels and was recounted by both Graham McMorine and the Captain of the Nordwind, Gerhard Lomer, the ships trapped in the canal became directly involved the aftermath of the conflict. The ceasefire had been announced at dawn and by 9:00am a large group of demoralized, hungry and thirsty Egyptian soldiers and civilians were gathered on the Eastern bank of the canal attempted to cross by any means. The Melampus used their motorboat to tow three mooring boats containing bread and water in an attempt to offer assistance picking but not before forcing soldiers to relinquish their weapons. Other ships in the canal followed suit sending out boats and despite some being swamped by rushes of people managed to help. The next morning more men were spotted on the Eastern bank and boats were again sent from the Melampus, Djakarta and Nordwind. They found a many were in a poor state with no clothes or shoes and many suffering from bad injuries and extreme thirst and decision was taken to move them in the boats to the South end of the Lake, the jetty at Fanara where the boat crews were met with an enthusiastic reception. The crews of the boats were later officially thanked by the Canal Authority for their courageous actions. The Egyptian Government and Suez Canal Authority convey their many thanks for your co-operation towards repatriating our soldiers and for the food and medical assistance rendered to them. Notice in an Egyptian Newspaper A number of the other ships trapped in the lake also had intriguing stories behind them, The Bulgarian Vassil Levsky was on its way to North Vietnam, possibly with a cargo of weapons whereas the US African Glen had been chartered by the US Defence Department and was travelling from Europe to South Vietnam. However as one American sailor put it; 'We live here as brothers at sea. We know no nationality, no Eastern or Western blocs, no politics.' The sense of brotherhood in difficult circumstances is exemplified by the foundation of the Great Bitter Lake Association. In October 1967 14 captains and crews got together aboard the British 'Melampus' and founded the 'Great Bitter Lakes Association' with a stated purpose to promote and cultivate friendships, mutual assistance, and joint undertakings. Membership cost ÂŁ1 and when paid the new member received a tie in the UN colours monogrammed with an anchor, the number 14 and The GBLA buoy which bears their distinctive logo


'GBLA' in gold to symbolise the 14 trapped ships anchored and surrounded by the desert. Captains in the association also received a pennant in blue and gold based on the tie. The association's enthusiastic, voluntary secretary Captain Jim Starkey also organised a supply of other paraphernalia such as GBLA branded tankards and badges as well as issuing member ship cards. Anyone who visited the ships was eligible for membership and few turned down the opportunity and so the over 1000+ members included consular officials, journalists, film crews from various countries, and a number of British MPs. Sporting activities were a vital part of the GBLA's remit. 'Church' the weekly main social gathering of most of the ships crews was vital for the sports committees to organise fixtures and events which were a key part of the social calendar, nobody worked on Wednesdays, they were set aside for football but other sports such as sailing regattas were also common . Once the details of fixtures had been hammered out the elected vicar would announce them to the congregation. However the pinnacle of these sporting engagements was the Mini-Olympics in 1968 during which the trophy, now in the museum's collection was awarded. Captain Hugh Davies, a resident of North Wales and the donor of the trophy to the museum, was one of the Captains who was among those relieved by a party including Captain Brian McManus, also a resident of North Wales, at the end of 1968. He was there to greet Capt. McManus when he arrived and, though they only spoke briefly, he was eager to mention the sporting events he had overseen; 'Did you see the Mini-Olympics on television?' asked Captain Davies. 'Yes,' I admitted. 'It was the Poles idea and coincided with the main event in Mexico City between the 12th and 27th of October 1968,' he explained with enthusiasmď‚ź' From Capt. McManus's; Suez Castaways- A Great Memory of a Bitter Experience Captain George Kurdna of the Czech Ledice was the first to produce the famous GBLA in 1967 stamps which were accepted by many postal companies and he chose to produce a run to coincide with the Mexico City Olympic 1968 Games. The theme was picked up for the GBLA's own mini-Olympics as can be seen here;


The games themselves were a great success and received worldwide press and television coverage as alluded to by Captain Davies above. Held aboard the Polish ship the Djakarta around 200 seamen from the entire lake converged on the Djakarta and competed in 14 different events including, archery, sailing, fishing, weightlifting, football and acrobatic jumping. The archery and football was won by the British teams but it was the Poles who topped the medal table winning four gold, four silver and four bronze. The Swedes won four gold's and two bronze medals and the West Germans achieved three gold's five silvers and three bronze medals. All the ships were festooned with flags and life boats swirled around with sailors chanting the Great Bitter Lake Association hymn 'We all live in a yellow submarine.' Images of the games in progress are shown here;


The Agalampus team who won the football event and potentially the trophy were the combined crew of the Blue Funnel vessels Melampus and the Agapenor who were drawn up alongside each other and lashed together for insurance purposes. As Captain Davies was present for the Olympics it is possible he brought the trophy back with him when he returned. I believe that he was given a command within Blue Funnel in 1967/8 so it is likely he was captain of either the Melampus or the Agapenor increasing the likelihood of his being in possession of a trophy Multiple versions of these trophies may have existed as some could reportedly be found in the now defunct Hamburg Mariners Mission.

The Agalampus, or the Melampus and the Agapenor lashed together in the Great Bitter Lake and whose crew won the trophy


Football continued as one of the main recreational activities after the games themselves. The Port Invercargill was host to the biggest sporting events of the week in the Great Bitter Lake and on its large wooden deck fast and furious 4-aside inter-ship football was played with 5 minutes each way. There was a league and each month culminated in the 'Little World Cup' tournament and every team attempted to capture the double. The Daily Express had donated a trophy and according to Capt. McManus the Polish crewmen took the game very seriously. However it was the Scottish Star who had reputedly the best team twice beating the Agalampus in the final of the cup from December 1968 to March 1969. The cup was played on a Saturday and was awarded to the winner of the best of three games and was followed by a celebration including a meal of Irish stew and plenty of cold beer and wine. Images of these football matches are below;


Other Photographs and Documents


Hand drawn map of the ships anchorages in the Great Bitter Lake produced by Graham Botherill, a junior mate on the Port Invercargill


A crew list for the Agalampus for the period 17.4.69 to 21.8.69 owned by Allen Bickerdike and found by his son


The Mini-Olympic trophy donated by Capt. Hugh Davies and its accompanying information label

Bibliography The first two colour photographs of football matches on the Port Invercargill and the GBLA buoy courtesy of Capt. Brian McManus who also provided a copy of his memoirs Suez Castaways- A Great Memory of a Bitter Experience The third is a research image from Uriel Urlow's 2010 art installations based on the Yellow Fleet named 'The Short and the Long of It' and exhibited across the world Photographs of the stamps and the Mini-Olympic games in progress from an article written in 2012 by Peter Valdner The account of the Melampus's arrival in Suez is that of 4th Engineer Graham McMorine from a Blue Funnel history site; http://www.bluefunnel.myzen.co.uk/bluefunnel/melampus/mcmorine.htm Extra information was helpful provided by the members of Ships Nostalgia forum board on the Great Bitter Lake Association including first-hand accounts, research and the crew list and anchorage drawing above ; http://www.shipsnostalgia.com/showthread.php?t=11352 Contemporary newspaper and journal reports were also helpful in gathering information such as these examples; the second of which provided the quote from the American seaman http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1314&dat=19671226&id=JNBYAAAAIBAJ&sjid=FukDA AAAIBAJ&pg=7255,3047799


http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=z7dIAAAAIBAJ&sjid=VQENAAAAIBAJ&pg=928,624720 4&dq=melampus&hl=en

There were also multimedia sources of information notably the German TV documentary 'Trapped on Bitter Lake' (Gefangen in Bittersee) from 2011, https://www.globalscreen.de/programmes/show/108824 and the BBC Radio 4 programme 'The Yellow Fleet' broadcast in 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00vrwrt

http://www.rhiw.com/y_mor/blue_funnel_02/ships_03/agapenor.jpg


The Great Bitter Lake Trophy