Web Page No 1140 21st April 2013
Top Picture: Aftermath of the flood
Bottom Picture: Lynmouth Hydro- electric station
Lynmouth Flood Disaster
Thirty-four people lost their lives in the Lynmouth/Lynton flood disaster in August 1952. Even now more than half a century later, questions are still being asked about the tragedy.
This event was the worst post-war flooding disaster in Britain and it occurred on 15th August 1952, after over nine inches of rain fell in the space of just 24 hours. The downpour caused a wall of water to surge down from the wilds of Exmoor onto the town of Lynmouth. The East and West Lyn rivers, which drop down from Exmoor, were swollen even before the storm.
At 8pm the hydroelectric power station on the East Lyn River belonging to Lynmouth Electric Light Company flooded and plunged both Lynton at the top of the cliffs, and Lynmouth into pitch darkness. Engineers Reg Freeman and Charlie Postles switched over to the emergency generator staying bravely at their posts until forced to evacuate at 9 o’clock. The power station was never to work again.
Trees and bushes were uprooted and fell awkwardly forming dams behind bridges and in so doing creating walls of water that carried huge boulders into the village. In all thirty four people in Lynmouth and surrounding hamlets were killed, and thirty nine buildings collapsed. Things were so bad that the army had to be drafted in to help with the clearing up.
Speculation over the cause of the flooding has raged ever since the tragedy happened. During August 1952, North Devon had experienced 250 times the normal rainfall for the month, and on the day of the disaster, some 90 million tonnes of water swept down the narrow valley into Lynmouth.
Popular among the theories is that the heavy rain was caused by the secret experiments undertaken to artificially create rain. In 2001, a BBC investigation discovered that classified documents on these secret experiments have somehow gone missing. Survivors of the flood told how the air smelled of sulphur on the afternoon of the floods, and that the rain was so hard, it actually hurt people's faces. The BBC unearthed fresh evidence about the alleged experiments, including several RAF logbooks and a personal testimony. The experiment was called 'Operation Cumulus,' but some people taking part dubbed it as 'Operation Witch Doctor.'
Alan Yates, who was a glider pilot, told how he flew over Bedfordshire as part of Operation Cumulus, spraying salt into the air. He was later told that there was a devastating downpour in Staines, 50 miles away. However, the Ministry of Defence still maintain that it knows nothing of the so-called 'cloud-seeding' experiments during early August 1952.
More than sixty years on from the disaster, the people of Lynmouth are still waiting for the speculation to be put to rest one way or another.
But how did it affect us when we were children?
I remember a Disaster Appeal that was started and went out via our schools. We were asked to take in any spare warm clothing, sleeping bags, hats, gloves and scarves plus as many spare blankets as we could find. I remember struggling to school with brown paper packets containing the various items that were needed.
In our house we were lucky as my grandmother has recently moved in with us and she had brought all her household effects with her from her house in Central London. This meant that we had plenty of extra sheets and blankets that my folks could donate; in fact I think that my mother was glad of an excuse to have a clear out! The one lasting effect in our house was that both my mother and grandmother started knitting woollen squares and sewing them together into blankets to send to the disaster appeal. This was the start of something big because having started knitting these blankets I don’t think they ever stopped until old age curtailed their knitting activities. I remember them knitting blankets for the refugees from the Hungarian uprising in 1956, (in fact we had a refugee (Erno) stay with us for two weeks at the time. Woollen blankets always seemed to be around our house for most of my life at home, in fact we still have two of the blankets here at home.
To alert the outside world to the tragedy that night a local resident, Derek Harper, clambered over the hills towards Porlock to the only phone that was working. For this act of bravery Derek Harper was later awarded the George Medal.
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News and Views:
Motown the Musical opened in on Broadway this week.
On this day 21st April 1960-1965
On 21/04/1960 the number one single was My Old Man's a Dustman - Lonnie Donegan and the number one album was South Pacific Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was Armchair Theatre (ABC) and the box office smash was Psycho. A pound of today's money was worth £13.68 and Burnley were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was Brasilia becomes Brazil's new capital.
On 21/04/1961 the number one single was Wooden Heart - Elvis Presley and the number one album was GI Blues - Elvis Presley. The top rated TV show was The Budget (All Channels) and the box office smash was One Hundred and One Dalmations. A pound of today's money was worth £13.25 and Tottenham Hotspur were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 21/04/1962 the number one single was Wonderful Land - The Shadows and the number one album was Blue Hawaii - Elvis Presley. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Lawrence of Arabia. A pound of today's money was worth £12.89 and Ipswich Town were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions
On 21/04/1963 the number one single was How Do You Do It? - Gerry & the Pacemakers and the number one album was Summer Holiday - Cliff Richard & the Shadows. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Great Escape. A pound of today's money was worth £12.64 and Everton were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 21/04/1964 the number one single was Can't Buy Me Love - The Beatles and the number one album was With the Beatles - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Liberal Party Political Broadcast (all channels) and the box office smash was Dr Strangelove. A pound of today's money was worth £12.24 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was BBC2 goes on air but is soon blacked out.
On 21/04/1965 the number one single was The Minute You're Gone - Cliff Richard and the number one album was Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street and the box office smash was The Sound of Music. A pound of today's money was worth £11.69 and Manchester United were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.