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Life Experience

The Fenland floods of 1947 – My memory of a natural disaster – and video

flooded Fen region 1947

Do the media mislead young about climate change?  –  My experience of extreme weather

Young people who learn about natural disasters from the media may get an impression that things have never been so bad and are getting worse and worse all the time. It’s natural to be worried. There are always terrible things happening in the world but I think it is wrong to think the situation is worse than it’s ever been. We can blight our lives with fear if we get things out of proportion.

Many countries are experiencing more and worse problems than in previous history, but in some areas things are little changed or even much better. There have always been terrible natural disasters and extreme fluctuations in weather and everywhere is not consistently getting warmer and warmer.

And, most important, many places have learned to cope with the effects of ongoing climate change.

My story

When I was 4 years old, in March 1947, huge areas of the Fens in Eastern England were flooded, hundreds of thousands of acres of prime farmland. The floods extended to within a mile or two of where I was born in Spalding, Lincolnshire, and and to within a few miles of where I lived in the village of Surfleet.
My father did some” disaster tourism” and took the family out in the car one Sunday afternoon in March to have a look at the floods. I remember being driven along the Cowbit Road in Spalding by the side of the river Welland.

River Welland overflowing sandbags along the Cowbit Road in 1947

To my surprise I found a picture on the internet of this scene in 1947 close to the railway bridge across the river. My infant school was further along this road, about a quarter of a mile further north.

I remember the sandbags and not understanding how they could help with the flood. I think that when we were there the river level wasn’t up to the brim. And along the same road. I remember fire engines and long pipes, attached to the fire engines, along the edge of the road. This was also something I couldn’t understand.
The river Welland is to the left of the picture behind the trees and can be seen with the level of the water up to the top of the sandbags. Normally the water level in this river is twenty or so feet lower than it is in this picture.

We drove on past the village of Cowbit and along the bank and looked out on an endless extent of water with a farmhouse standing like an island maybe 200 yards from the bank on which our car had paused. A sort of raised road or causeway extended from the farmhouse to the road on the raised bank.
The flooding was said to be “the worst since 1880”.

Film of 1947 flooding of the Fens in Eastern England

Background: The winter of 1947

The winter of 1947 in the UK is remembered as one of the worst ever, but it didn’t begin this way. In fact, after the first cold week in January the weather was exceptionally warm. “During the night of 15-16 January, the temperature at Leeming in North Yorkshire didn’t fall below 11.7 °C.
The following day, maximum temperatures close to 14 °C were recorded in Norfolk, Herefordshire and Flintshire.” [Metlink article.]
The first night of frost was on 20th January. From then on matters got rapidly worse with snow everyday, blizzards, gales, and unrelenting low temperatures. The whole of the UK was gripped in freezing conditions and deep snow for almost two months. Life became very difficult.
A sudden change in the weather occurred on 8th March with the arrival of torrential rain which fell onto ground frozen solid and with drainage ditches blocked with ice.

There were burst river banks and floods all over the UK, but the low-lying Fens were particularly affected.

More information about the winter of 1947 can be found at

Coronation Channel and Marsh Road Sluice, Spalding

Preventing a recurrence of the problem

Following the flooding a long canal called the Coronation Channel was dug to direct excessive rising water out to sea. The drainage of the whole area is controlled by a system of channels, pumping stations and sluices (sliding barriers that can be raised or lowered to allow or prevent the flow of water)..

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David Roberts

Writer, publisher, music promoter

Born in 1942, I now have time to enjoy life more widely and reflect on my experience, interests, and contemporary events.

David Roberts

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