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Remembering the Boston Pionair fifty years after its loss devastated Lowestoft

PUBLISHED: 10:33 15 February 2015 | UPDATED: 10:33 15 February 2015

Norma Roberts and Margaret Savidge lost their husbands on the Boston Pionair

Norma Roberts and Margaret Savidge lost their husbands on the Boston Pionair

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It sparked one of the biggest search operations ever carried out in the North Sea. And 50 years after the Boston Pionair and its crew of nine were lost, families touched by the disaster are remembering their loved ones and the weekend that changed their lives forever. POLLY GRICE reports.

Supplied pictures of the Boston Pionair boat that was lost at sea 50 years ago.Supplied pictures of the Boston Pionair boat that was lost at sea 50 years ago.

Under the experienced hand of skipper Brian Moyse, the Boston Pionair left Lowestoft on February 6 1965.

Mr Moyse, 25, used to ring his wife Norma on the last Sunday of their expedition to let her know when they would be home.

But on Sunday, February 14 1965, the call never came.

“I knew something was wrong,” said Norma - now Mrs Roberts - 74, of Enstone Road, Lowestoft. “I still heard nothing by Monday morning and I was getting panicky.

“I phoned the owners who came round and told me the boat hadn’t been heard from, but I wasn’t to say anything to the other wives until it was official.”

Just three years previously Mr Moyse had won a medal for saving the lives of two men when their ship caught fire.

And even though he has been dead for 50 years, Mrs Roberts hopes his memory can live on.

“People assumed we would move on with our lives, but I don’t think Brian’s name should be forgotten,” she said.

Margaret Savidge, now 70, was waiting at home with her young daughter for news of her deck hand husband Billy Stebbing, 20, that weekend in 1965.

“I rang the office and they told me they were coming into Grimsby on the Tuesday,” she said. “I walked down the High Street and I saw Lowestoft Journal posters up saying ‘trawler missing’ but I didn’t think anything of it.

“A friend of mine had to go into the Boston office to ask about her husband so I went with her.

“They said: ‘Mrs Stebbing, has someone come to see you today?’ and it clicked.

“I just stood there. I couldn’t say anything. I went to my parents’ house on Notley Road and when I opened the door, the Boston Pionair was on the TV.”

The last message from the Pionair had come at 6.30am on Sunday, February 14, and it was never heard from again.

For days 50 trawlers, naval ships and RAF aircraft scoured the North Sea for signs of the Pionair.

Other crews returning that weekend had seen huge gales and 20 foot waves. Hope began to fade when a lifeboat was found floating in the sea upside down 70 miles off the coast of Scarborough.

But after four days, the search was abandoned and the men pronounced dead, presumed drowned on February 14 1965. A service of remembrance was held at the Bethel two weeks later.

And while the 50th anniversary of the disaster brings back painful memories, it also lets the families talk about their loved ones and show people still remember the crew of the Pionair, which included brothers 33-year-old Anthony and 31-year-old Walter Thurston, Gordon Beamish, 49, Michael Lark, 21 and Michael Lee, 27.

For more, see this week’s Journal.

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