The weatherman on the television assured all viewers that the lady who had phoned in earlier asking if the news her friend had told her over the telephone was true, was incorrect. A gale, yes, but no hurricane. We all went to bed and the phone rang in my house at one am. My young daughter had answered it and now she was scared. The crashing of our greenhouse blowing away had awoken her. I asked who was speaking and she told me Bexhill Police, and would I go now and mount a watch on the tide as I usually did in times of high tides and gales. Never before had the police phoned; it was always the River Board.
“Oh yes,” I said, and “why is it that you are phoning and not the usual people?”
“Can’t raise them,” he said.
The rosebush outside the kitchen window was playing a tune on the panes of glass as was usual in high winds but nothing special. I took this man calling to be a mate having a joke when he said, “There’s a hurricane on its way.”
“A hurricane?” I said, “And who are you?” The gentleman on the other end of the phone got my drift and instantly said, “If you don’t believe me hury up and look the number up for Bexhil Police, but hurry, the phones could go dead any minute.”
“Ok, if you are who you say, what’s your name and number?” Without thinking he said PC …., Number……. ” He had no time to think so I realised he must be who he said he was. I told the wife to take the three kids, who were not out of bed, into our bed and to try not to worry.
Leaving the house, the wind was only just gale force and I thought, ‘damn this! If I’m to sit on the beach for a couple of hours, my mate could accompany me. His house lies under the shelter of the hill of Winchelsea. As I waited for him to make a flask of coffee and get dressed, not a thing moved in the trees.
“Hurricane, pooh!” he said, “and anyway, it’s low tide and only a small breeze into the bargain.” Parked up on top of the shore with the headlights shining across the sand, we were unable to see the water. “A couple of hours of this, he said, “then home.” At one thirty we commented to each other that the south west wind had indeed picked up in velocity. The old land rover we sat in was rocking around most alarmingly. High tide came and the water looked rather rough but came nowhere near the top of the stones as we had often seen, so there was no chance of flooding.
The journey home was to prove an adventure. Leaving the open spaces of the foreshore, the first thing we came across was a large mobile home on its side blocking the highway.
“Look at that!” my mate said. “I told you the beach stones were rolling across the shingle. With the force of wind, this gale is a storm.” Even with a land rover, there was no way home for us so we turned round to go the three miles along the coast road. Nearly home with only half a mile to go, our route was again blocked by a large willow tree across the road. Most cars could have passed under the obstruction but we were too high.
“Only one way left,” I said, turning round, “and that’s across the fields out at Camber Castle.” Luckily a dirt track runs from Rye to my home past the castle. As we travelled the track, we noticed all the sheep were in flocks huddled in the middle of the entire field. Usually in wind like this they sheltered behind the bushes of thorn and gorse. Tonight even they were scared of the noise the wind was making. I have never before heard wind make a sound like it did that night, except by winding down the window of a car while travelling at eighty miles an hour!
I dropped my mate off and returned home to find the whole family hiding beneath the blankets. The wife said that things had gone crashing around them outside and the lights had failed hours ago. The one thing that had scared her most was the flame of the candle. At one time it had left the wick and moved over an inch before jumping back into its proper place on top of the wax! I decided to check my aging mother and father in the front of the house, which faced the south west wind. Both were awake and listening to the howl of the wind. Their bedroom had a large glass window from the floor to the ceiling and the force of the wind was bowing it inwards. I was afraid that at any moment it would collapse in a shower of glass shards so advised them to cover themselves under the sheets. That way they would escape being cut. Father was worried that if that happened the contents of the room would blow away.
Daylight that morning brought a scene of chaos.
Our large barn had disappeared, the roof taking the railway sleepers with it. The house roof had fared no better. The back away from the wind was missing. Amid all this was the remarkable fact that a seven ton ship of cast iron had been shifted twenty yards along the concrete road. Luckily the old land rover had been missed by all the flying objects and started first go. A quick tour of the village showed me that erecting the power lines alone was going to take weeks. All the copper lines were down along with most of the poles that stood out on the marsh supplying the power from town. Caravans lay strewn in heaps hardly recognisable. Houses had lost their roofs; not a shed or greenhouse stood complete. Dustbins had been the things that first went when the wind increased and hardly anyone did not have theirs rattling around their property in the breeze that now had heralded the morning’s light.
I promptly went in search for batteries to replace the power we had lost and would not get back for a while. The radio at home required six U2’s. The queue in the little shop was slow moving as everyone bemoaned the fact that the papers were late. Just drawing along the street I had taken care not to run over most of the tiles scattered in my way. Many still held the nails that for years had made them lie still in other winds. The lack of electricity was also top of the agenda for the moaners as seldom did they, sheltered up in the village with their supply underground, suffer such things. I told an old man that by the look of things across the marsh and everywhere else, apart from town, I didn’t think he had much chance of getting power for at least a week.
“Nonsense!” he said. “A little wind can’t do that much harm!” No one had heard the early morning news and we were to be over three weeks before we had power again. Living on a farm, we were lucky in the fact that I had the use of a large old generator that we shared with our neighbours. Extension leads ran from our back yard along the road in both directions to charge the people’s deep freezers. My house I rigged with car headlight bulbs and ran them from a heavy-duty battery, giving us plenty of light, along with the old air lamps.
Clearing the roads to gain a way through was number one task and owning chain saws, we took up the challenge of sawing a path through the fallen trunks. Many tons of fine timber was ruined that week as we chopped the middle out of large trunk, so leaving the root end on one side of the road and the crown part on the other.
The power was the next job that only the experts could tackle but the wind had swept the greater part of Southern England, leaving devastation in its wake.The power company could not hope to cope so employed men from all over the British Isles to help. The team we had in our area came from Wales; alas the tools they brought with them were metric and our power supply was old and nothing fitted. The gypsies of the area gathered the fallen cables made of copper so there were lengths missing and the power company had to renew the system instead of re-hanging the wires.
The countryside changed that night. Many familiar landmarks vanished as did the old windmill up on the hill of Winchelsea. Nowadays we have got used to the new scene and the trees that lost their tops have grown new ones. Things still turn up though many years later as did a dustbin lid with the name of the caravan park still painted on it. That lid had travelled seven miles as the crow flies but that wind that night arrived much before it. Our shed, complete with railway sleepers, had a piece of three by two driven through the roof of cedar shingles and close board.
This is but one of 42 stories in Jimper's latest publication which is on sale at all good newsagents and bookshops in the area.
“Rye’s Own” January 2006
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