I was serving in the RAF with “D”
Flight 22 Squadron with Whirlwind helicopters at Manston in 1968..
On 15 September the Flight took a request for assistance in the
Edenbridge area as the River Medway way in flood after prolonged
heavy rain. My role was winchman, who was the crew member that
was winched down on the end of a 60 foot steel cable to effect
the rescue or give any assistance.
We were scrambled by Southern Rescue Co-ordinating
Centre(RCC) in the early evening in heavy rain and low cloud,
making our way to Ashford at low level to keep below cloud base.
At Ashford the intention was to pick up the railway line through
Tonbridge to the Edenbridge area. This railway line is one of
the straightest in the country and provided an ideal navigation
aid to the Edenbridge area. It was an interesting run very low
up the rail line hopping over power cables and telephone lines.
Having arrived in the area we started our
search of the Medway west of Edenbridge following the line of
the river. On reaching the outskirts of the town we checked various
properties for stranded people but found nobody. On reaching the
centre of town we could see the main street flooded to a depth
of 3 or 4 feet. The sight that struck us as incredible was that
some shops still had the shop window lights on shining below the
water level. Why had the lights not fused? One shop near the bridge
still had the lights on and we could see that the first floor
accommodation was still occupied by a gentleman with the television
still on. The helicopter was hovered over the shop roof and I
was lowered down to the window. I banged on the window to attract
the person’s attention and he came and opened the window.
He refused to evacuate the property with me as he was watching
the Forsythe Saga. We later learned from the report in a national
newspaper that it was Mr. Frank Eley.
As our services were not required there,
we continued to search properties down river from the bridge for
stranded people. On a number of occasions I was lowered to check
windows with lights still shining. We noticed that various Army
vehicles involved in flood rescue were parked near what I think
was a local church or community hall, or maybe a school. As we
had been airborne for approximately 2 hours, our fuel was getting
low and it was also getting quite dark, it was decided to land
in the adjacent field to obtain further instructions. We were
out of radio range with RCC so I tried to telephone them, but
the phone lines were down. Eventually, I made contact with the
RAF Uxbridge Ops Centre, and were advised to continue the search
next morning. We slept in the hall that night.
Early the following morning, we started
up the helicopter and contacted Gatwick to request refuelling.
Gatwick informed us that they were closed as the runway was flooded.
Choice words were exchanged as we were a helicopter on a flood
rescue mission and did not need a runway. Gatwick finally allowed
us to land and refuel.
After refuelling we continued down the
Medway, but saw nobody in need of our help. On reaching Tonbridge
we were still out of radio contact with RCC as rain water had
seeped into our VHF set. However, parked on the High Street bridge
at Tonbridge was a police Landrover with water flooding all around.
I was winched down to the Landrover and was able to use their
radio to Police HQ and eventually contacted RCC by telephone relay.
Our new instructions were to continue down the Medway and assist
as necessary. A little further down from Tonbridge there were
a number of cabin cruisers swept away from their moorings and
caught in trees and bushes. I was able to winch 3 people off the
boats and we landed them in a field near the Bell Inn at Golden
A further search down river was uneventful and we returned to