We all know about the football game and the exchange of presents in the trenches at Christmas during WWI. We also know about the Japanese soldier who didn’t know war was over and refused to give up fighting long after WWII had finished.
Yeah but… have you ever heard of the 6 days war’s Yellow fleet? A peculiar story indeed.
In 1967, the world was split by the iron curtain.
In that summer, a convoy of fifteen ships from 8 different countries was sailing through the Suez Canal when war between Israel and Egypt broke out.
The tensions climaxed when Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula, forcing the Egyptian army to the west. To prevent the enemy from using it, Egypt decided to block the Canal at both ends.
The convoy had nearly reached the halfway mark through the Suez Canal when Egypt’s President ordered for it to be blocked. While the war itself lasted only six days, the canal remained closed for the next eight years imprisoning the ships.
One might wonder if the crews were stuck for eight years too.
That was not the case. The first group of sailors was relieved within three months.
Many different relief crews arrived over the years in order to maintain the ships so they could leave at a moment’s notice if the canal reopened. Yet they couldn’t keep up with desert sand that slowly covered the ships. That’s were the nickname comes from… “yellow fleet”.
Stranded and with nowhere to go, the sailors helped each other cope with their existence in scorching-hot conditions. They immediately dealt with the basics, ensuring everyone had food and water; wine and beer were also in plentiful supply: Captain Arthur Kensett, master of the British vessel, noted that an estimated 1.5million beer bottles were dumped overboard!
Months passed by but the situation didn’t change. In order to kill time, the officers and crews of all the ships got together and founded an association which held weekly meetings, arranged sports fixtures and social events. Football and sailing were particularly popular, as were movie nights. In 1968, the sailors even held their own mini Olympic Games with real trophies and medals.
More than sports, what is striking is how people got together developing strong bonds when faced with hardship. They eventually invented their own country going as far as devising a postal system. Although the hand-crafted stamps had no postal validity, their existence embodies the enduring sense of community these crews forged, in spite of coming from countries on opposing sides of the Cold War.