Flooding 2007

From Clifford Chambers
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Avril's Story Friday 20th July 2007 Floods

I lay on the lawn on the Thursday morning looking up at the cloudless bright blue sky and could not believe that the forecast for tomorrow – the planned day of the Barbeque – was torrential rain! All through that day, there was not a sign of a cloud in the blue, blue sky – not even a little fluffy one. Yet the warnings kept coming – and as I chatted to people in the village, we were all agreed that the forecasters were playing an April fool joke in July.

Friday 20th July 2007 from 4.00pm onwards, was to be a Barbeque in my garden, planned for the children and parents of Milcote, Willicote, Wincot, Sheep Leys, Preston Fields, Campden Road, Welford Road and the bungalows in Shipston Road – and the village – to meet together. As all the children in the Parish go to so many different schools, it was thought it could be a lovely way of getting to know each other.

The warnings of really bad weather were still arriving on radio and TV on the Thursday evening, and I began to think that quite possibly we might have to use the Jubilee Hall.

By 3.00pm the next day, Friday, I was receiving phone-calls from people in The Nashes – “Help! - the water is pouring in through my back door and out through my front door. Where are the sand-bags?” And then came a phone call from The Warwickshire Association of Youth Clubs, two members of whom were coming to talk to the children. “Avril, we're in floods here. All over the road. Do you think we ought to cancel it – or it is o.k. where you are?”

By 3.30pm Friday 20th July, I was sending urgent emails, and Karen Embury was making urgent phone messages, to all the families - “Barbeque postponed”! Then Marjorie Hadden rang, “I don't want to make a fuss Avril”, she said, “but I've got brown water coming out of my tap when I switch it on, and when I flushed the toilet just now, it filled up with muddy water!” By now, I was making I suppose my sixth telephone call to Councillor Peter Barnes for instructions.

From then on where I was concerned, it was phone calls to the Garden Centre asking for sandbags; ringing the Chairman of the Parish Council as the Garden Centre wanted 'The Authority' of the Parish Council to guarantee that the Council would pay for them – and seeing from my window volunteers splashing through the little river which was our village street, to help in the distribution of the sacks. Then blankets and flasks of hot water being dispersed to our Senior Citizens in Barn Close who rang to say the flood waters were in their back gardens and coming up towards their homes

Eventually the phone calls ceased, and I was able to walk around the village. Fire engines to pump the water out of houses had arrived though one was stuck on the Campden Road where a large torrent of water flowing over the road had caused the engine to stop. The house built for Miss Wilding all those years ago had the water reach halfway up the stairs. Nearly all of the flood waters came from the underground spring under Martins Hill that fed an ancient reservoir built, so folklore said, by the Romans.

Only a few houses were flooded with actual river water – the Mill being the main one, where one car parked in the drive was completely covered with water. River water flowed over the flood plain dampening the back walls of part of Karen Embury's house (which took until the following February to dry out!). But most of the houses whose gardens lead down to the flood plain did not suffer, as the houses were on a higher level than the river meadow..

It was well after 11.00pm on the evening of 'That Day' when, realising we now needed even more sandbags, I felt it necessary to see how the sheep in the river meadow at the bottom of my garden were faring. Earlier on, I had seen their anxious faces peering through the bars of our fence, but, on investigating, had seen they still had a stretch of grass to stand on – and possibly the river had reached its peak!!!

Now, as I got nearer to the fence, I realised with horror that the water was now coming through the fence into my garden, and the sheep, pressed hard against the fence, were watching me apprehensively in silence.

Concern for the sheep standing in flood water which was still rising, caused me to forget the circular dip I had dug out in my lawn two years earlier, to keep my fun pool on the level when filled.

The noise – and language - I used as my ankle twisted as it dropped suddenly and unexpectedly into this dip, caused the sheep to step back further into the flood.

I was unable to stand, so I quietly crawled to the fence, and pulled myself up, standing on one foot with the sheep looking at me as if I was something from outer space. And yes – there was water everywhere, with just a few long blades of grass right up against my fence, showing through – and the water was still rising!

I managed to limp back to the house, phoned David Smith the farmer, who lives and mostly farms over the other side of the river, and, under his instructions, shouted to Henry to drive his car from our drive, across the farm lane which runs alongside our garden, down to the field.

Then, limping to our neighbour, Tony Reason, whose front drive is very near the field gate, banged on his door, and asked if the sheep could stay the night on his drive.

Henry, in the meantime, pleased that his battered old Peurgour which was very good at making terrible grating noises when he turned the engine on, could be put to use as a sheep gate, drove his car off our drive, and parked it right across the farm lane, so the sheep would be unable to get out into the village street.

Then it was a question of me pulling back the stiff spring on the gate and opening it. But I was faced with a dilemma. The way the gate opened, would block the way for the sheep to get out of the field unless they went out into the flooded field and swam round the open gate and into Tony's drive.!

By this time, someone from the Working Men's Club had joined me. I left the gate slightly open to enable the sheep to come through one at a time, but giving more room for the sheep to approach the gate without going too far into the flood; and then limped my way back into my garden and to the other side, where Henry was stationing himself ready to start making appropriate noises to urge the sheep to the gate.

It worked to begin with. The rather startled sheep sloshed their feet through the water to get away from Henry's noise, heading straight for the open gate. Then the man at the gate added to Henry's noise by calling the sheep to come to him.

Startled by the noise coming from both ends, the sheep did the only thing sheep can do – plunged into the flood and swam for all their worth away from both lots of noises and towards the deep waters and the river..

Henry and I watched in dismay, silent and not knowing what to do, hoping that our silence would cause them to turn back to us.

But some had reached a shed not quite submerged by the water, but the contents, including a tractor were barely visible. We heard two make a desperate baa and then a gurgle as the water filled their mouths. This, to us, was their dying breath It hurt us to hear it. In the distance, against the dark glow of the water, we could see an even darker blob of a little head streaking through the water aiming straight for the river – and we could do nothing but watch. To me, it was very tearful, for there was nothing we could do.

Lawrence, who had sensibly gone to bed at that time of night – until he had heard about the sheep – had got dressed again and now was coming across the lawn to us. He instructed me to go to the Reason's front drive and stand in front of their sensor light to keep it going, so he and Henry had better light to work with.

Then I made another mistake! So upset about the sheep and their possible ending, as I squeezed in between Henry's car and our fence, I completely forgot that, for the last two days, in beautiful sunny weather, Lawrence had been chipping and banging out the cement foundations of the iron support to our fence - and had left a hole!!!!

And yes! It was my poor sprained and hurting ankle that dropped into it. My wellington boots must have given it some support – but it hurt! From then on, I spent a long time waving my arms from time to time just to throw light on all the rescuers – and on those sheep that were uncertain, and too frightened to think, that they wanted to be rescued!

And help arrived from the Working Mens Club headed by Nigel Radbourne, followed by David Richardson and his son Scott – and many others. I had my back to them, as I wanted to concentrate on that sensor light – and, in any case, from where I stood, I could see little of what was going on.

Henry has since told me what went on from then on. The men waded into the field with some standing the other side of the gate and others, more into the flood, so that, when the sheep came towards the gate, they would be forced to go to the proper exist and safety.

Nigel and Scott then waded deep into the water and made their way to where the frightened sheep were swimming desperately. By the time the water was up to their necks, they had just about reached the sheep. They also had to feel their way along with their feet, as they were walking amongst machinery and other things hidden under the dark water.

Somehow, the sheep came through the gate, and I heard their feet on the stones. I had to turn and look as they headed straight for Henry's car; then turned, and came back to me, looking at me anxiously. I stayed as still as I could, but had to turn back to the light, as it had gone off again. I noticed, with the next lot that came through, that one poor lamb was plastered with mud. He looked so pathetic.

Henry told me afterwards, that when this sheep was dragged out of the mud, it just lay motionless and Henry thought it was a gonner – until David Richardson did some thumping – or the equivalent – then there was a little movement and David heaved him/her onto his/her feet.

Then I was told we had them all – all that could be found. The gate was shut. I limped across the Reason's drive and the farm lane, and squeezed through a little gap in our fence – Henry kindly moving the iron barrier we had put up there. No way was I going to try and squeeze past Henry's car that night with that dark hole waiting for my sprained foot!

My nervous cat Daisy, was now mewing pathetically for me and wouldn't come out of her hidey-hole, but I was too much in pain to do anything but say soothing words to her as I limped back across the lawn to my back door.

That night, as I lay in bed with my throbbing foot – having taken some pain-killers beforehand, I heard Nigel's voice outside in the road. By this time it was getting on for 2.00am “I'm fed up!” he said. “I've lost my ********* trousers. I'm going to bed!”

How he lost them, I just don't know, but his yellow waterpoof jacket was still dangling from the fence at the bottom of my garden on Sunday morning.

Nigel had worked harder than all the rest of us together, starting early in the morning, when most of us were still in bed, dealing with a flooded house – and then finishing the night like this. But he really is a hero. But two sheep had drowned.

On Saturday morning, he appeared at our door – still early! - with dry clothes and his feet in slippers – and in pain. He feet had become so swollen, and he couldn't get them into his shoes.

He really is Our Man of the Moment. Raise a glass to him!