Winter 1963 in Shortstown & RAF Cardington – Pass the deodorant folks!
Fifty years ago in1963 Britain suffered one of the harshest winters on record – indeed this winter is often referred to as “The Big Freeze.” The whole country was covered in snow from just before Christmas 1962 until early March 1963 with temperatures of -20c recorded. Villages were cut off as roads and railways became blocked, schools were shut down and fuel became in short supply causing further hardship, rivers and even parts of the sea froze. In isolated rural areas farmers were unable to reach their livestock and some animals starved to death. And of course this severe weather had affected Shortstown too.
A Bedford Record newspaper dated January 25th 1963 reports temperatures dropping as low as -17c in Bedford the previous week and reported that engines were frozen to the tracks at Bedford sidings and water tanks frozen solid. Emergency water supplies from the river were also freezing up. This was further compounded by a shortage of coal due to transport difficulties resulting in a very limited train service on the Bedford to London line for several weeks. It was also reported that many buses were out of action as their engines froze and a decision was taken to keep the engines running overnight to prevent them from seizing up entirely. Stan White who worked in the Balloon Unit at RAF Cardington and lived with his wife in married quarters at Greycote at the time recalls that pipes in his house and all along his street were frozen for over six weeks so there was no running water - RAF water bowsers were used to distribute water as standpipes were also frozen. He recalls RAF families returning to Shortstown after the Christmas break to find their carpets covered in four inches of solid ice where pipes had burst.
Across the road at RAF Cardington conditions were even worse as the shortage of coal meant that none of the wooden huts where men were billeted had any heating whatsoever. Any new recruits arriving were sent home as conditions deteriorated and were told to await call up instructions when the cold spell had finished. Alan Thomas who served there at the time recalls that the only heated hut on the camp was the hospital and this resulted in a sudden influx of “sick” men desperate for a little warmth. Alan also recalls that as there was no running water for six weeks no one was able to have a wash! Phew! However the men were kept busy during this time as they helped to distribute drinking water to Bedford villages and joined local Territorials to clear blocked roads in the area.
The Gasbag March 2013