This Day in History: 1987-03-06

Because the bow doors are left open, the cross-channel ferry Herald of Free Enterprise rolls onto her side and sinks in shallow water minutes after leaving Zeebrugge, Belgium. 193 passengers and crew die in the worst maritime disaster involving a British ship in peacetime since 1919. They include a chef attached to 1 QLR and the wife of a 1QLR soldier, who survives with their baby daughter. It was very nearly a far worse disaster for the Regiment. The 1st Battalion had that day been released on pre-tour leave from their base at Paderborn in Germany prior to an operational tour in Northern Ireland. Many members of the battalion and their families, heading home for their leave, were booked on the Herald’s sailing. However at the last moment their Brigade Commander decided he wanted to give them a pep talk before releasing them. He droned on a bit too long, for which they owe him a everlasting debt of gratitude, because this made them late and nearly all missed the ferry sailing, many by just a few minutes. The difficulty was that no-one knew who had made the ferry and who had not. A major operation was created overnight, involving casualty clearance cells with the Battalion in Germany and in Preston, and public appeals via the media for all those travelling to check-in as soon as they arrived home, or heard the appeals. It took over 36 hours  to finally establish  where everyone was.