AS I sit to write this column, it’s pouring with rain – but don’t let that detract from the fact that we’ve just come through one of the driest winters on record – and hosepipe bans are now in force across most of the southern United Kingdom.
So it might seem an odd time to be recalling one of the worst episodes of flooding ever recorded on the Thames – the early spring of 1947.
That year, we had endured one of the coldest, wettest winters in living memory. It had rained almost constantly through the winter months and, unlike 2012, the early months of 1947 provided no let up from the rigours of the weather.
The above average rainfall of that winter was followed by very heavy snowfalls in February across most of southern England. And that, in turn, was followed in March by the heaviest rainfall for more than a century.
That heavy rain – accompanied by a sudden sharp rise in temperatures which caused the snow to start melting at an amazing rate – proved to be the straw which broke the camel’s proverbial back – or in this case, the river’s banks.
Water from all along the Thames Valley cascaded into the tributaries and the Thames itself all of which were already swollen above danger levels and the inevitable result was that the Thames burst its banks for miles.
In our area, parts of Stanwell, Ashford and Staines were cut off for days by the rising flood waters with the worst flooding caused by the backing up of the River Ash. A huge area of land from Kingston Road in Staines all the way back to the Ash was inundated and, for days, the only way people could get around was by boat.
Homeowners fortunate enough to live in two-storey buildings struggled to move their most precious possessions above the rising flood waters and simply had to wait it out in the knowledge that when the water did eventually recede, they would be facing the sad and smelly task of clearing the muck from their downstairs rooms.
In Sunbury and Shepperton, the flooding was severe enough for the Army to send in a fleet of amphibious DUKWs of Second World War vintage to pluck people from their homes.
Many ended up being given shelter by the Salvation Army at its headquarters in Sunbury Court. And just to underline the fact that looting isn’t a modern crime, many of those people discovered when they did finally get to go home that burglars had been busy stealing the possessions they’d been forced to abandon.
Another group who suffered badly in the flooding of ’47 were boat owners. As the waters rose, boat after boat was ripped from its moorings to be carried downstream where most of them ended up mangled to pieces against the weirs. It was pure carnage by all accounts.
I’d be interested to hear from anyone who remembers that awful time and can add their own first-hand memories to those I’ve mentioned here.