Back to work to feed the country

PUBLISHED: 14:16 05 April 2007 | UPDATED: 13:54 04 May 2010

THE Government was fully aware of the devastation to the land in the Fens after the floods of March, 1947, and were quick to avert any further loss to that summer s harvest. A scheme was put forward to assist farmers whose lands had been subject to abnor

THE Government was fully aware of the devastation to the land in the Fens after the floods of March, 1947, and were quick to avert any further loss to that summer's harvest. A scheme was put forward to assist farmers whose 'lands had been subject to abnormal flooding to carry the risk of a poor crop which might result from late sowing and the condition of the land'. This was offered to farmers whose land had been under water after March 21 or whose land was certified by the War Agricultural Committee to qualify for damage caused by the floods.

Confident that the entire country was behind them, the Fen farmers got down to the job of recultivating the land. They were in the full knowledge that the country did indeed need them. The British Isles were still firmly in the grip of widescale rationing following the second world war.

In places where farm implements had been destroyed by the flood waters those that were available and fit for purpose were pooled with the War Agricultural Committees and made available for communal use.

In the places where the topsoil had been washed away bulldozers were brought in to distribute further supplies evenly over the land. In addition, once the floodwaters had been pumped away the internal drainage authorities took on the task of cleaning and repairing the ditches and dykes.

As soon as the ground was firm enough to hold the weight of the farm machinery, work went on 24 hours a day.

The farmers worked around the clock, using searchlights or the headlamps of motor cars during the night. They planted crops that would give them the best yield for the time of year, considering the delay in planting. Potatoes, sugar-beet and corn were among the most popular crops, with some farmers trying peas, turnips, cabbages and flax. Barley was also sown for the sake of quick ripening.

For the untrained eye driving through the Fens in the summer of 1947 it was difficult to work out what land had suffered from flooding and what land had remained dry. The yields did vary from area to area, depending on local weather conditions. Frustrating for some farmers was the fact that the summer proved to be one of the hottest on record and the earth was baked dry, therefore impeding the growth of the crop.

There was, however, one place that displayed the devastation of the floods of 1947 and that was in Haddenham Fen. The land here is lower than anywhere else in the Fens and the depth of the water had therefore been higher than anywhere else. It took until June of that year just to pump the water away. The damage to land and homes was obvious. Many houses had been reduced to just piles of rubble and the land was still waterlogged. Those farmers who had moved back were living in the remains of their former homes. It was simply impossible for anything to be grown here during that summer.

Elsewhere though it seemed incredible that those who a few months before had fought the 'Battle of the Banks' had, through sheer hard work, managed to achieve so much.


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