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Home   Kent   News   Article

Flooding on Sheppey in 1953

31 January 2013
by Danny Boyle

Flood water being drained from the land by means of cuts in the river wall near Kings Ferry Bridge.

Flood water being drained from the land by means of cuts in the river wall near Kings Ferry Bridge

The two-day gale whipped the sea into such a frenzy that the weakened flood defences at West Minster, Cheyney Rock, Scrapsgate, Queenborough, Rushenden and Warden were breached.

Along the east coast of England, there were 1,200 breaches and more than 300 people lost their lives.

In Sheppey, no lives were lost but cattle and sheep drowned and thousands of homes flooded.

The Kingsferry Bridge was marooned in an expanse of water four miles wide.

Such was the ferocity of wind and water that the submarine Sirdar sank in dry dock and the frigate Berkeley Castle capsized.

The island was isolated as all road and rail communications were under water.

The power failed, telephone lines were down and from Chatham Dockyard to Sheerness the Royal Navy provided a vital lifeline, maintaining a flow of essential supplies for Sheppey’s flood victims.

RAF Drying Houses in Sheerness after the floods of 1953.

RAF Drying Houses in Sheerness after the floods of 1953

Eventually, after 10 days, Royal Navy explosive experts blasted a way through to clear the Ferry Road and railway line and narrow gaps were cut into the bank to drain flood water.

A rest centre set up at the Welfare Clinic, Invicta Road, had to be moved to Sheerness Technical Institute when power failed.

Generators were brought in, and more than 150 evacuees were given blankets, clothing and hot meals, before being transported to a second rest centre at Halfway.

More than 30 people, suffering from exposure, were treated at Sheppey General Hospital.

Damage at Sheerness Dockyard was estimated at £1.5million and was described as the “worst peacetime catastrophe”.

The entire village of West Minster was flooded when water gushed through two holes 30ft wide.

In Bredgar, Joyce Whitnell, now 84, says she and her husband Jack were among the last people to leave the Island and get back over to the mainland before the bridge was flooded.

Milk deliveries after the flooding on Sheppey in 1953. Picture: Bel Austin.

Milk deliveries after the flooding on Sheppey in 1953. Picture: Bel Austin

The couple lived in Ufton Lane, Sittingbourne, at the time and had gone over to Sheerness for a performance of her husband’s band, The Jack Whitnell Quartet, at the Wheatsheaf Hall in the High Street.

Joyce said: “We left [the hall] as soon as we had packed up.

“The shows always finished at 11.45pm and by the time we got away it was about 12.30am.

“As we came back over the old, old bridge the water was over the wheels of the car – it was our very first car, a little Austin.

“I would have been 24. When we left we didn’t really know anything about it. We realised when there was all this water that it wasn’t normal – but we didn’t know the full extent of it until the next morning.

"there were an awful lot of animals drowned and we certainly would have been stranded" – joyce whitnell
“I can’t remember exactly, but I know we must have been one of the last over the bridge.

“It wasn’t until the next day when we realised what had happened and how lucky we had been.

“I think the full force hit between 12.30am and 1am, so we were really close to it.

“There were an awful lot of animals drowned and we certainly would have been stranded.”

Cathie Lewis, of Holm Place Farm, Halfway, has also told of her memories.

The 69-year-old was nearly 10 at the time and recalls the terrible gales and how sheep caught in a gateway near the old bridge later washed up dead at Whitstable.

She said: “In Halfway Road, the water came up to the lodge at Sheppey Court.

“Milk retailers were delivering to customers in Sheerness.

“In some roads – Clyde Street and Unity Street – they used the boats from the boating lake in Sheerness to get up the waterlogged streets and people would lower their buckets to get their milk.

“Some of my father’s cattle were stranded on the base of a straw stack.

“The cowman rowed out to them and tempted them to follow with a bale of hay in the stern of the boat.

“They swam to safety on higher ground behind Sheppey Court."

 

 

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