In the Thames two miles north of the Isle of Sheppey, there is a curious cluster of parallel slanting stakes. They are visible mainly at low water but they are also noticeable in an eighteen-foot flood tide, for behind them the surface of the water ripples away to the horizon in rapidly changing lights and shades. The visitor to the town of Sheerness at the north-west corner of the island may at first take these slanting stakes for eel traps – their poles leaning away from a strong west wind. Distances are difficult to judge over open water and the black triangle appearing between the stakes at ebb tide can easily be mistaken for the owner’s fishing boat. Anyone attracted to the spot will need binoculars. He will be wrong about the eel traps. They are not moved once a fortnight and, moreover, the stakes, of unequal length, are at strangely regular intervals. Besides they are too close to the central waterway of the Thames itself.
The inhabitants of Sheerness are only too willing to tell a stranger. As if imparting a piece of confidential good news, they say: ‘However dark the cloud it still has a silver lining.’
The cloud under which these people live along this stretch of the Thames is the memory of the flood of February 1953; it submerged wide areas of the island together with the town of Sheerness. Moreover it could come back, resulting in houses awash, sheep drowned, telephone junction boxes flooded, electrical short-circuits, burst gas mains, and the uncharitable responses of the insurance companies. After 1953, the possibility of a second flood was thoroughly discussed – the best plans were expressed – but when the flood returned to the island again in January 1978 neither the sea wall nor the warning system had been completed. People had to suffer just as they had twenty-five years before, except that this time there were no directly attributable human casualties. Such is the future prospect for this area.