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Devastating Floods in the Gillingham area

A violent thunderstorm on Thursday 28th June 1917, accompanied by unprecedented rainfall caused devastation in the locality of Wincanton, Stourton, Bourton and Gillingham.  The rainfall over the upper Stour catchment was about 6.5 inches. 

In the early hours of the following morning, the Gasper Dam broke causing the release of about 0.2 million cubic metres of water into the already swollen river Stour.  Local residents were woken by a thunderous roar as the water swept towards Gasper Mill and on to Bourton, through Hindleys factory, causing utmost damage in its wake.

Below: The bridge at Bourton after the flood

It was Plank House, at Wyke Street, Gillingham that received the full shock of the torrent. Plank House, the home of Mr Wyld, solicitor, was being used as a Red Cross Hospital.

According to a Western Gazette report, the rising waters were first noticed about 1.40am.  Miss Brock, the night nurse, immediately went across the yard to rouse the men in the open-air shelters, the water then being ankle deep.  By the time she had done this it had risen to her knees, and she had difficulty in returning through the rushing flood to the house.  The sister in charge, Sister Jones, had in the meantime phoned to Dr.Farnfield to come. This was the only message she was able to get through, the telephone breaking down immediately after, owing to the rising waters. 

By the time the doctor arrived the flood had become a raging torrent, breast high, and a truly fight for life began.  It was with the utmost difficulty that two patients, Corpl. J Williams (Liverpool Regiment) and Private Robinson (3rd South Devon Regiment) succeeded in opening the gates and helped the doctor to battle through the rushing weight of water.  Half swimming, half walking, one by one these three men rescued the helpless patients from the open-air shelters.  Meantime, Sister Jones and Nurse Brock (V.A.D.) were working hard evacuating the downstairs wards.  Only just in time were they rescued, for by 3.00am the flood had risen to a depth of 4ft 6in in the house and 6ft outside.  It is entirely due to the heroic efforts of Sister Jones, Nurse Brock, Dr Farnfield, Corporal Williams, and Private Robinson that no lives were lost.  Some sixteen yards of heavy stone wall in front of the hospital toppled over.

Right: One of the open-air shelters in the grounds of Plank House.  Each shelter holds two beds. Sister Farnfield is in the centre.

David Lloyd - 28 June 2017

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