Looking back at flooding ‘disaster of the first magnitude’ which hit Waveney and the Fens 70 years ago

FEN FLOODS 1947
FEN FLOODS - EDP FRONT PAGE
DATE; 26TH FEB 1947
PLATE NO; P7371

FEN FLOODS 1947 FEN FLOODS - EDP FRONT PAGE DATE; 26TH FEB 1947 PLATE NO; P7371

It caused what would today be equivalent to £5bn worth of damage, and British industry took a 10pc output hit.

FLOODS 1947
FENS FLOODS
DATE; 26TH FEBRUARY 1947
PLATE NO; P7370

FLOODS 1947 FENS FLOODS DATE; 26TH FEBRUARY 1947 PLATE NO; P7370

Now, 70 years after the big freeze of 1947, and the subsequent floods, reporter Geraldine Scott looks back at the impact in our region.

Six weeks of snow followed by a rapid thaw and heavy rain - that was what caused families to be made homeless, livestock to be swept away and property destroyed in the region 70 years ago.

West Norfolk and Waveney were worst affected, as the rock-hard ground was unable to absorb water and river levels rose rapidly.

In Long Stratton, on March 13, homes were flooded and what is now the A140 was underwater. The River Waveney broke its banks along a 20-mile stretch and there was extensive flooding around Diss.

EADT FLASHBACK MAY 9
Pic REF DK.
The winter of 1947 was severe. Sub zero temperatures, blizz

EADT FLASHBACK MAY 9 Pic REF DK. The winter of 1947 was severe. Sub zero temperatures, blizzards and a shortage of coal brought hardship. Power cuts were common and clothing could only be bought with coupons. Snow fell from January to March. This picture was taken in Hadleigh as the River Brett flooded when the snow melted. (Photograph by Peter Boutlon). What memories do you have of that winter? EADT 9 05 06 EADT 2 02 07


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Farmers along the river were stranded, with some using makeshift punts to take food to their poultry.

But it was not just Waveney affected, as in Cromer fire crews pumped more than 120,000 gallons of water from the school house and a farm.

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North-east Suffolk had been cut off and traffic could only leave Lowestoft via Beccles. And the railway line collapsed near Bungay station.

Some families from Beccles spent the night in RAF hutments and hot dinners were sent across Gillingham Dam by boat.

EADT FLASHBACK MAY 9
Pic REF: DK
The winter of 1947 was severe. Sub zero temperatures, blizzar

EADT FLASHBACK MAY 9 Pic REF: DK The winter of 1947 was severe. Sub zero temperatures, blizzards and a shortage of coal brought hardship. Power cuts were common and clothing could only be bought with coupons. Snow fell from January to March. This picture was taken in Hadleigh as the River Brett flooded when the snow melted. (Photograph by Peter Boutlon). What memories do you have of that winter? EADT 9 05 06 EADT 2 02 07 ES 2/2/09

By March 17 the Fens were in a 'critical situation' and 1,000 men worked to close a gap in the Little Ouse bank, near Hockwold.

More than 6,000 acres of farmland flooded and farmers, RAF personnel, and German prisoners of war formed a mile-long line transporting sandbags.

A gap also appeared in the Great Ouse, near Ely, and the Royal Norfolk Regiment were called in. One farmer said: 'Only a super-human effort can close this breach and save the Fens.'

By March 27, Minister of Agriculture Tom Williams described said the Fens was a 'disaster of the first magnitude'.

vintage essex 1/2.
Floods of 1947 hit Halstead town centre.

vintage essex 1/2. Floods of 1947 hit Halstead town centre.

But undeterred residents - as happens now - compared the catastrophe to previous floods.

'I was in the 1915 flood and this was only a pond by comparison,' said farmer John Laws, from Southery Fen. 'You can't discourage a man who was born in mud.'

Today, it is hoped history would not be repeated as flood defence efforts have been stepped up - including the Great Ouse Protection Scheme and a relief channel from Denver to King's Lynn - amongst other schemes.

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