Interview with trawler skipper’s son reveals personal insight into Hull’s remarkable maritime heritage

Eric Tharratt, whose father was skipper of The Viola.

As Hull celebrates again following confirmation of a £13.6m grant to support the ‘Hull: Yorkshire’s Maritime City’ project, hopes are high that the award will also mark a major step towards bringing the Viola trawler back to the city.

The Viola trawler laid up in Grytviken.

Trustees behind the Viola campaign are in advanced discussions about returning the ship, which was built in 1906 and sailed off to war in September 1914 with a crew of fishermen after being requisitioned by the Admiralty. 

She was in the maritime front line throughout the Great War and involved in sinking two U-boats but has yet to return to Hull from that wartime voyage – working around the world as a trawler, a whaler and a sealer, and now sitting on a beach at Grytviken, South Georgia.

The Viola story can be found at the Trust’s website ­– www.violatrawler.net – and we were able to add to it by recording this unique interview with Eric Tharratt, whose father George William Tharratt was a skipper of the vessel.

PODCAST: Eric Tharratt in conversation with Dr Robb Robinson. Producer: Jerome Whittingham.

We listened in as Eric, now 102 years old, spoke earlier this year to renowned maritime historian Dr Robb Robinson, one of the Viola Trustees. The recording has now been posted on HULL IS THIS as further evidence of the city’s remarkable nautical heritage, and tribute to the people who have played such an important part.

During the interview, Eric tells Robb he had recently been in hospital where a doctor said he had actually been on board the Viola. The doctor had visited Grytviken during his Royal Navy career and was given permission to board the historic trawler because he was from Beverley.

Eric also tells of his memories of his father, George William Tharratt, born at Sunk Island and originally named Green Willows Tharratt.

He said he knew little of his father because he was at sea so often and for so long, but on occasions he joined him on his ships – once on a fishing trip and again on board the Cadella, which was sent to Ostend to collect coal during the general strike of 1926.

His father was awarded the DSC for bravery and Eric tells of the exploits behind the honour. Robb said it was not widely known that 3,000 fishing vessels and 40,000 fishermen were involved in the war against mines and U-boats, one of them the Viola under the commend of Eric’s father.

But 11 years after the war George died and ended up in a pauper’s grave, leaving a widow with five young children. When Eric’s mother said she would have to send one of them to the orphanage he volunteered to go.

Robb tells how he first met Eric and his daughter Pat while he was researching his book. He was intrigued by the story of GW Tharratt and set out to track down the family.

The interview being recorded in Eric’s front room with Robb Robinson asking the questions, Jerome Whittingham recording, and Pat looking on.

The audio interview between Eric and Robb was produced by HULL IS THIS editor Jerome Whittingham, who adds: “This story is a real gem. It was a genuine delight to share some time with Eric. It’s stories like these that are so important to the city and its heritage. We’re pleased to be able to share it more widely as ‘Hull: Yorkshire’s Maritime City’ announces its bright future too.”

Website: www.violatrawler.net

[Phil Ascough – Ascough Associates]

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