In December the rainfall in Cumbria was at an unprecedented level as Storm Desmond passed through, causing incredible damage to homes and businesses. News reports showed people using boats to get to their houses to try and salvage anything they could and a great many families will now be spending Christmas in temporary accommodation. As one of Walking With The Wounded’s Walk of Britain team members, I walked into Keswick earlier in the year to an incredible reception from hundreds of Keswick locals who gave generous donations to the charity and welcomed us with open arms. As soon as we found out Team Rubicon UK was deploying to Keswick, Walking With The Wounded was keen to get people there to bolster up the numbers and get involved with helping the flood victims.
What we all found was devastated homes and businesses that will now struggle to catch up in 2016. One such business was Nichol End Marina, a family run business on the lake that bore the brunt of the rising water levels on Derwentwater. It seemed that the amount of work the family would need to do before getting the business trading again was endless. We stripped out interiors, cleared debris and righted overturned boats. What needed doing were the tasks that required many hands to make light work and by the time we were done, the marina was in much better condition for the family to get started and the insurers to work out the best way forward. Morale was high in the team and the owners were very appreciative, showing cheerful resilience to the situation.
Later in December, Tadcaster in North Yorkshire was badly hit by floods and once again TR UK deployed. This deployment, Op: Calcaria, had a slightly different feel to it: the flooding was much fresher and the town was still in shock, unable to fully take stock of the extent of the damage. What was encouraging to see was the amount of spontaneous volunteers from the community and surrounding towns all coming together to help. We had plenty of people to use but there was a new frustration that I hadn’t seen in Keswick in that the amenities we needed such as skips were in use all over the area and could not keep up with the demand. We had people to fill them but nothing to fill! The recycling centres were overloaded and could take no more, but with a little improvisation and some supportive land owners of a local sports ground car park, we were able to off-load some of the tons of waste from various houses and businesses in order to clear the streets until later on, when some skips started arriving.
It was during the afternoon of the second day that the bridge which Tadcaster is built around began to collapse as a result of the flowing water and debris. The effect was a town split in two with a fifteen minute drive to get from one side to the other despite being only a few metres across the river Wharfe. A gas leak in one of the buildings that had been flooded near the bridge resulted in an evacuation of the surrounding area. The more pressing concern was preventing further flooding and with a nasty looking weather forecast we started concentrating on obtaining and distributing sandbags. This op had certainly been more dramatic.
TR UK worked in conjunction with Serve On during both operations and it was fantastic to meet so many like-minded people from both organisations all focused on whatever task is at hand, but with the usual humour and banter you expect in the military. Through the Walking With The Wounded network we found 4 veterans who have struggled with employment and independence since leaving the forces. They were instantly re-engaged when they deployed on Op: Wordsworth and Op: Calcaria, proving once again the value of veteran volunteering. Everyone involved enjoyed being in the team environment and there was no sense of hierarchy or unnecessary rank structure, just the familiar system of the Ops room coordinating the boots on the ground to get the job done.