Tales of a trawler at war will inspire visitors to literature festival

The Viola.

The fishing and fighting exploits of a steam trawler from Hull will fire the imaginations of children from across the region when they flock to a literature festival in the city.

Hull-based writer and broadcaster Russ Litten has adapted the stories of the Viola and will share them with children and their families at The Big Malarkey, which takes place in East Park from Tuesday 25 June to Sunday 30 June.

Russ, who is currently working on his fourth novel, will host drop-in sessions on the Saturday for children who want to hear about the Viola’s varied roles, from sailing from the old Humber Dock in the early 20th century to ending up on a beach in South Georgia in the South Atlantic.

The Viola Trust, a charity based in Hull, is working to increase awareness of the Viola and to raise the money to bring her back to Hull where it is hoped she will form part of the Yorkshire’s Maritime City attraction alongside the Arctic Corsair.

The Trust’s website tells how the Viola was built in Beverley in 1906 and operated as part of the Hellyer fleet of boxing trawlers. She was requisitioned to defend the UK in the Great War and left Hull for the last time in 1918 on a career which took her to Norway, Africa and Argentina, catching fish, hunting whales and elephant seals and supporting expeditions in the South Atlantic.

Her stories are of Hull men sailing to the most distant areas of the North Sea and working in perilous conditions for weeks on end, transferring their catches by rowing boat to fast steam cutters which fed the nation’s growing appetite for fish and chips.

When the First World War broke out, Viola and her Hull crew were on the front line of the maritime conflict, steaming thousands of miles on patrol across seas infested with mines and U-boats. Viola had numerous encounters with the enemy, being involved in the sinking of two submarines. More than 3,000 fishing vessels and their crews saw active service during the Great War and today Viola is one of a handful of survivors.

In the 1970s, Viola was mothballed after the closure of the whaling station at Grytviken, South Georgia. Sitting on the beach, where she remains, the old trawler was the target in 1982 of scrap metal merchants from Argentina. But when they landed they ran up the Argentine flag, an action which led to the Falklands War.

Author and broadcaster Russ Litten.

Russ said: “I’ve been reading the Viola book and I’ve found some fascinating stories. She’s been in two wars, she’s been known by different names and she’s travelled the world.

“We will be asking the children to delve into certain aspects of the Viola’s life. It’s like re-imagining the history, pretending you are one of the Argentine scrap metal merchants or a crew member in the fishing days when they sailed from Hull. Imagine you were the skipper on the bridge, or you were Charles Hellyer, who decided to build the new boxing fleet in 1905. We will take historical fact and use our imaginations to turn it into fiction.

“It’s a brilliant story and just amazing to think that she has lasted so long. We were at the very epicentre of putting fish and chips on people’s plates!”

Paul Escreet, Chair of the Viola Trust, said the charity was keen to sponsor The Big Malarkey to make sure children are aware of such an important part of Hull’s maritime heritage.

He said: “The campaign to bring the Viola trawler back to Hull is all about the city’s history and tradition, brought to life by the stories of the ship’s years at sea catching fish, hunting whales and elephant seals, supporting expeditions in the South Atlantic and defending the UK in the Great War.

“The trustees are delighted to have the opportunity to share those stories with the younger generation with the help of The Big Malarkey Festival. We hope the children of our city are captivated by tales of Hull fishermen sailing to the most distant areas of the North Sea and then taking up their positions on the front line of the maritime conflict, steaming thousands of miles on patrol.

“We hope, too, that they in turn inspire their friends and families to spread the word about the remarkable ship and the men who sailed on her, and to support our efforts to return and restore the Viola as a symbol of the courage and fortitude of the thousands of sons of Hull who went to sea.”

For more information about The Big Malarkey including how to book tickets please visit www.thebigmalarkeyfestival.com

To find out more about the Viola please visit http://www.violatrawler.net/

[Phil Ascough – Ascough Associates]

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