by John Threadgold
The last day of January was very wild with a strong N.E. wind blowing straight from the Arctic and pushing the water in the North Sea in front of it. As the English Channel is not very wide the water built up and overflowed the banks.
Soon after midnight on the 1st we were warned by the Police that the tide was running very high. With about two hours to go before high water it was already splashing over the top in places. The night was clear and bright moonlight, almost like day and it was freezing cold. Dad and I first checked the state of the tide and on seeing that we were in for a wetting we roused the Mead family that were in the cottage. George Mead (our cowman) came to help us and the other 4 went up to the farmhouse so that we were all together.
The first thing we did was to put some large soggy straw bales on top of the seawall near the buildings where the water had already started to wash the back of the wall away. Luckily they stopped the flow otherwise there would certainly have been a breach and probably the buildings would have given way under all that force of water. In the meantime Dad was getting some of the calves out of their pens and putting them in the granary which was two feet or so off the ground, George and I were giving him a hand, when we noticed a white wall coming across the fields from the Thames where about 100 yards of seawall had been swept away as though made of paper.
The water started to rise rapidly and when it was about waist deep Dad shouted to get back to the house quick. As we went I realized that the cows were still all tied up in the cowshed so I diverted and undid all the yokes and released them all, then tried to open the big sliding door but there was so much weight of water outside that I couldn't move it. (looking back, had I managed to open it I may well have not been writing this) Dad had meanwhile gone along the road to the house (100 yards), but George and I were that little bit later and we went round the back of the cottage and along the edge of the field where the water was not much more than knee deep. We all got to the house (which is the highest part of the farm) at about the same time. Dad had been struggling through swirling straw and chaff from the stack yard and was very lucky to make it.
Mum had had the foresight to run a bath of hot water for the 3 of us to have a quick warm up. Dad was the last one in and while he lay there the water outside started coming in to the bath through the overflow pipe, it was time to get out, as he got to the stairs the front door burst open and in poured the water. We were marooned, 5 of us, 5 Mead's and Uncle Frank Briggs who had come down from Landwick to give us a hand and had been trapped for his troubles. Heaven knows what Auntie Ruth was going through not knowing where he was and if he was safe.
During the long night Mum thought she heard the bull roar but it was Uncle Frank snoring. Suddenly there was a light reflecting on the bedroom ceiling which we thought must be an army DUKW but it turned out to be a tractor who's headlights had come on under water. The tractor had been put in front of the house to keep it out of the water but it was almost totally covered.
As it got light on that Sunday morning we looked out and could see for the first time the total devastation. as far as you could see there was water everywhere except in the creek. We saw a weak calf fall off the seawall into the water and just give up. On the wall were 2 cows and “Blossom”, one of the horses who was heavily in foal.
When breakfast time arrived the one thing missing was breakfast, so I pulled the floating hall table to the bottom of the stairs and stood on it then pulled myself round to the kitchen by means of the picture rail, there on the top of the metal kitchen cabinet was a bowl of dripping and a loaf of bread which went down very well. My young brother Roy (10) tried his hand at fishing from the stairs with an empty case of a camera tied on the end of a piece of string, without much success. We also managed to shut the front door to stop the wooden floor blocks floating away, the ground floor was all wooden blocks with the exception of the kitchen and bathroom.
As the tide came up in the afternoon so the wind increased and we saw the henhouse crumple and float away, then a landing craft came round the creek and a rowing boat with 3 men was put over the seawall and rowed round under the front of the house. With the bows in the front porch they threw a rope to us with which we lowered everyone down into the boat which took us a few at a time to the seawall. When Mrs. Mead was being lowered she caught her elastic knicker leg on the window catch and there she dangled until being pulled up again and released. Once on the seawall we could see all the dead animals littered round the buildings (74 in total) and along the roadway was all straw, wood and all sorts of other rubbish. Over on Rushley Island (which we then owned) we could see animals huddled round the old tumble down house the only part of the Island out of water. We boarded the landing craft and were taken round the creeks to Kimberly Road at Barling and to the house of the boat owner “Gaffer” Mumford for a nice hot cup of tea before going on to our temporary digs. Later “Gaffer” received the BEM for “rescuing 11 people from Oxenham Farm”.
Our family and some of the Mead’s stayed with Ernie Adcock in Wakering High Street. Before it got light Dad was off out, not telling anyone where he was going,(he probably didn’t know himself to start with). He was gone all day and didn’t get back till well after dark. It turned out that he had gone to Shoebury and had hitched a ride with an army convoy over the Broomway to Foulness to check on Mum’s parents at New Wick and helped with the evacuation.
Meanwhile George, Uncle Will Nicholls (Dads brother-in-law) myself and a couple of workers from Millbank’s made our way to Rushley Island to get the young stock that were round the old house. To our surprise all 29 were alive but in desperate need of fresh water and food. We encouraged them to go through the water to the seawall by walking in front with a truss of hay, once there we drove them through the creek but the sticky mud took it’s toll on the weakest and 2 got really stuck. We had to leave the 2 so as to guide the others plus the 2 cows and the horse, round the seawall to Mill Head, through the brickfield and along the track to Little Wakering Hall then up the road to the High Street, turned right up to Star Lane, along the lane and into one of Millbank’s Meadows where they were to stay for several weeks. We went back the next day to collect the other 2, one had been floated out by the incoming tide and had got.to dry land but the other one was too weak and was drowned.
There was one pony “Patsy” that got drowned by taking a wrong turning and going into the cowshed, she used to frequently swim to Rushley of her own accord but that didn’t help her.
During the first three weeks as the water was slowly receding Uncle Will, Dad and myself spent most of our time getting the dead cattle and horses out of the buildings and from behind walls where it would have been almost impossible to have extricated them had the water dropped suddenly. One such case was the bull who was in danger of going the wrong side of a wall into an alleyway but we managed to heave him out just in time and float him out into the yard. Once all the animals were outside (about three weeks) we were quite fortunate in having a Knackerman with a couple of horses and a Slaughterhouse, less than half a mile from the farm buildings. Henry Cooper with his young son Raymond who was just able to ride a horse. They pulled all the bodies through the now shallow water by the farm, to dry (well almost) land on one of the meadows about half way to their slaughterhouse. Over the next week or so the animals were taken the last few hundred yards to the slaughterhouse and cut up for the pet food trade. Henry Cooper said that they were as fresh as if they had just been slaughtered, obviously the result of being pickled in salt water for over three weeks.
The slaughterhouse was next to the sewage works and adjacent to a large piggery that belonged to Harold Taylor, a butcher from Southend. The pigs that he had there at the time were drowned but I don’t know how many. (Later we purchased the piggery and had over 300 pigs there at one time)
During those first weeks while the water was still there we went to the farm by boat straight across the fields from Millers sometimes with just Uncle Will who was not very keen on it when we started to scrape the bottom of the boat on the barbed wire fences I think he could visualize a post coming through the bottom and sinking us. One of the first trips was with one of the Mead boys to pick up his motorbike so he could get it fixed, the bike was fine but by the time we got back to Millers it’s owner probably had trousers of a different colour, he was terrified that we would all drown. We had to give up this form of transport when the water went down low enough that there was no way over the fences.
Just over a week after the water came in the Army blew a hole in the seawall. This was to let the water out rather quicker than through the 4 fifteen inch sluices. After the water had all gone we had the unenviable task of clearing up. The houses came first with all the stinking slimy silt all over the floors, where there were floors, Mum was not best pleased to see her brand new oak parquet flooring in jumbled heaps. Once it was reasonably clean the Air Force brought down a large hot air blower to help dry out the house so that it was habitable again.
On the farm there was an immense amount of rubbish to clear although the roadway through the farmyard was partly cleared by a dragline that was on it’s way to patch up the seawall where it had been eroded by the water. We were weeks clearing away all the rubbish, the old straw and anything that would rot was put on a muck heap to get spread on the land at a later date. The old wood was sorted out and put in a heap and burned, anything else went into the rubbish pit.
Two months after the flood “Blossom” gave birth to twin foals, it is very rare that horses have twins but to have them both survive is almost unheard of and especially after an ordeal like the flood.