The bell tolls

On Friday 30 January 1953, hurricane force northwesterly winds drove the freighter Clan Macquarrie ashore at Borve in the Isle of Lewis, Scotland. Its crew were all saved using the breeches buoy apparatus, and were put up in the village. Some of them stayed and married local girls.

On Saturday 31 January 1953, the ferry Princess Victoria set sail from Stranraer in southwestern Scotland for Larne in Northern Ireland. Her stern doors were smashed in by mountainous seas in the North Channel, and the ship went down with the loss of 133 lives.

On Saturday 31 January 1953, hurricane force northwesterly winds drove a storm surge down the North Sea. It breached coastal defences in eastern England, along the Wash and in the Thames Estuary. Three hundred lives were lost in England.

On Saturday 31 January 1953, the National Water Agency in Holland was anxiously monitoring the coastal defences in the southwest of the country. Although low tide was at 6pm, at the time the sea was at high tide level. When the storm surge struck, shortly after midnight on Sunday 1 February, it combined with high tide and hurricane force winds to overwhelm the coastal defences in the provinces of Zeeland, Noord Brabant and Zuid Holland, causing massive flooding, in which 2,000 people drowned.

This is a repost of a poem I published on 12 October 2012

The bell tolls
Hauntingly over the dark moving plain
Fast moving currents of air
and of water
Smash through the doors, flooding

The bell tolls
Its call answered from all corners, echoed
Driven ashore, the boat is stuck fast
The men taken off, on the edge
Taken to safety - the wind still howls

The bell tolls
An alarm call to all
The low tide at high tide level
The barriers stand, but what will hold
Force 12 at springtide flood

The bell tolls
Over torrents of water, flooding
Crumbling barriers, sweeping away all
Islands retaken, the sea reconquers
Lost for centuries, it reclaims within hours

The bell tolls
As dawn breaks, over a sea of death
Houses afloat, byres adrift
Roads washed away, the railway torn up
The tide has turned, but the water remains

The bells ring out their peal, joyously so
The barriers gleam white
Blocking river from the sea, deprived of its spoils
Peace for our time
Can we withstand?

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