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Sailors' Society chaplain honoured for 50 years' service

Rev Bill McCrea

“One in a million” chaplain Rev Bill McCrea has been honoured for completing 50 years’ service with international maritime charity Sailors’ Society, which is supported by WesCom Signal & Rescue.

Despite formally retiring 14 years ago, Bill continues to visit seafarers every week in Southampton port. A special event was held at Southampton Seafarers’ Centre to mark his 50 years.

Bill served as a full-time chaplain for 37 years in London, Kent, Belfast, Jamaica, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Houston and Southampton.

He has helped more than 500,000 seafarers over the years, offering a warm welcome, practical support – from a listening ear to a lift to the seafarer centre or the doctor - and a tune from his mouth organ.

He says, “I love the work. I believe you have to have a calling to it and, as I say every week when I go on the ships with my volunteers, every ship visit is different – no two are the same.”

Over the years he has experienced great joy, like when he gives seafarers free Wi-Fi to contact their families back home, but also tremendous tragedy.

Bill was chaplain to the Merchant Navy and Sea Training Colleges in Kent on 6 March 1987, when the roll-on-roll-off ferry Herald of Free Enterprise capsized after leaving Zeebrugge port in Belgium, bound for Dover, in which 193 lives were lost.

Bill took the funerals of four crew members and cared for their families in the aftermath of the disaster. He says, "I tremble every time I think of some of those situations. It was a terrible time for Dover and I don’t think the city has ever fully recovered.”

Despite the hard times, Bill’s commitment to the seafarers he serves hasn’t wavered. He even visits ships on Christmas Day to take presents to seafarers docked in Southampton.

Sandra Welch, Chief Operating Officer of Sailors’ Society, says, “Bill is one in a million. His selflessness and dedication to supporting seafarers is inspirational and we are so pleased he’s still volunteering for us after all these years.”

Bill’s commitment to the maritime industry saw him awarded the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal for his services as Chaplain to the Sea Cadets in 2003. He was also awarded the Merchant Navy Medal in 2010 for his services to retired seafarers.

Feb 05, 2020