She listed and went over Crew member recalls how half his colleagues lost their lives
THERE can never be 100 per cent closure. These are the words of Clive Bush, who was working on the Herald of Free Enterprise on the night of March 6, 1987. His wife, Pat, lost her aunt and uncle when the Herald capsized. The couple, from Hythe, say their memories can be as painful and as raw as they were 20 years ago. Clive, now 70, said: “When a disaster like the Herald happens and people die, there can never be 100 per cent closure.” Pat, 64, added: “When you start talking in depth about it, sometimes you do not realise how emotional you really are. Even now, I have to try to keep my emotions in check because it is still raw.” Clive was a merchant seaman for nearly nine years. Before becoming an assistant steward he worked as a soft furnishings salesman, but long hours travelling were not for him. As he began his career at sea, he realised he loved the closeness of being part of a crew and that seafaring was in his blood. Clive was also a National Union of Seamen representative and had the role of a convener. Every one of the 80 crew members on board the Herald had a nickname, based on a person’s looks or a character trait. Clive’s was The Rabbi. He said: “The crew were like a sea-based second family. You have to remember that with the shift patterns, we spent a lot of time together and you became involved with what was going on in people’s lives.” On the evening of March 6 1987, Clive, like many other crew members, had gone to the mess to have a meal. At that time, the crew were half way into a 24-hour shift. He had only been there a few minutes when the ship began to list. As the Herald went over, Clive was pinned against the port bulkhead under a pile of chairs. He managed to get out after a crewmate rigged up a line with a piece of hose looped around. and dragged Clive and several other crew members through the water, inside the ship. When they emerged onto the upturned side of the ferry, crew members were met by bosun Terry Ayling, who had organised people into teams of eight to lower ropes through the port-holes that had been smashed, and pull passengers to safety. “Terry was amazing,” added Clive. “When I emerged to safety, he had worked out what needed to be done and how to do it. “One of the few fortunate things was that there were some soldiers returning from leave who were also in the teams. They were strong guys and were a tremendous help in saving so many lives.” Clive and the crew stayed with the Herald for several hours, pulling people to safety. Eventually, he was overcome with tiredness and was put onto a rescue tug. He was taken, with other survivors, to a barracks near Zeebrugge. That night half of the Herald’s crew of 80 lost their lives. Pat was having her hair cut at home, when Clive’s son came downstairs to say a ferry had turned over in the harbour at Zeebrugge. Then the phone rang. It was the couple’s eldest son, who asked if his dad was working, as he had heard a ferry had capsized. The couple’s family drove to be with Pat. “All I could see in my mind was a picture of Clive in his coat, in the water,” said Pat. She tried to ring the help line number, but could not get through. There was also false information being accidentally given out, as survivors thought they had seen certain people. It was not until 10.30am on the Saturday that she knew for certain Clive was alive and safe, when he was able to call her. “It is horrible not knowing if someone is alive,” she added. Clive returned to Dover around midnight on the Saturday. Despite pleas from surviving crew members to travel from Calais, they had to leave from Zeebrugge in the dark, knowing they had passed close to the stricken Herald. Many of the remaining crew went back to work very soon after the disaster – Clive only had two weeks off. They were transferred onto a requisitioned ship called the Vortigern and many of the Herald’s crew were pleased they were back working together. But it was to be a temporary illusion of normality. Clive said: “After two months we transferred onto the Pride of Dover – the first of the new ships. I had started to notice things were not right with people. “I spoke to my managers about it and they arranged for a naval commander, experienced in counselling, to visit us. “Many did have the counselling. At first I thought I was OK, I did not need it. Then I realised I was just as much in need as everyone else. “When Janet Johnston and her team at the Herald Assistance Unit, set up at Cambridge Terrace in Dover, it was a lifesaver. “I am a very laid-back person, but I was getting more and more aggressive. The
At first I thought I was OK and didn’t need counselling, then I realised I was as much in need as everyone else
counsellors in Dover were amazing and it is fair to say Pat and I may not still be together if it was not for them.” Pat added: “Wives had their own counselling. I had started to feel Clive was shutting me out of things – like there was nothing I could do to help him. We owe a lot to the assistance unit.” By June 1987, Clive was declared unfit to serve at sea. It was the end of his seafaring career. Only a handful of the Herald’s original crew remained working at sea. P&O tried to help Clive by arranging a work placement, to see if there was a land-based job he could do. For nine months P&O paid an antique restorer to train Clive. He set up his own business, but had to give it up as he could not face working long hours on his own in a workshop. The couple also received a financial donation from the Herald Assistance Fund. Today, Clive says material things do not matter to him. He said: “It is like my thoughts have become polarised, into before the Herald and after. Things that concerned me 20 years ago, would not now.” Clive adds that thanks to the counselling, he is able to deal with his thoughts. He had what he calls a “hiccup” a few years ago, but was able to recognise the signs and sought help. But he added: “It may be 20 years ago, it can still feel like yesterday.” Many people say the crew were heroes. When Clive is asked if he thinks this is the case, his answer is: “The crews were just doing their job.” He added: “To me, they were doing what was right in an emergency – to save as many people as possible. “Glen Butler – he was a hero. He was in the water and he waited for other people to be rescued. By the time he came out, it was too late, he had hypothermia and died.
“While I am not sure if we should be called heroes, I don’t think the work the crew did do has been properly recognised. “The Herald’s crew saved so many lives, before rescuers had a chance to get on the scene. The perception was that the crew got out first and left the ship. The Belgian emergency services were also wonderful. “The chairman of P&O did once say to me quietly: ‘Thanks for what you did on the night’. “It was little things like that which meant a lot.” Thanks to the counselling and their quiet resolve, Clive and Pat are still happily married and now have a growing brood of grandchildren to enjoy. Today, Clive and Pat both feel that in some respects they have been lucky. Clive said: “At times we do believe we are fortunate in that we were both faced with adversity and we now know that we can deal with it.”
SUPER FERRY OF ITS TIME: A rare promotional picture of the Herald of Free Enterprise, which came into service in 1980
HARROWING: This book was produced by the National Union of Seamen, and features Clive Bush’s story