Gallery: What if the children had stayed in their beds? asks storm survivor Jack Clarke
JACK Clarke has some cracking photographs of the beech tree from Chantry Park that crashed down onto his house in Ipswich during the 1987 storm and might easily have killed stepdaughter Tracy had she still been in bed.
However, his memories of those frightening early hours of the morning appear even more vivid than the visual reminders.
As explained earlier in this feature to mark the 25th anniversary of The Great Storm, Tracy was woken by family dog Barclay, doubtless spooked by the howling gales, and got up. Then the tree smashed through the roof of her room.
Jack remembers then trying to get in the bedroom, but finding it almost impossible to open the door. “The wind built up in that room and I had to put all my force behind it and edge it open – and I could see this tree on her bed. Our property must be 45 feet wide, and it caught both our neighbours as well.”
Downstairs, there were leaves everywhere. The fire brigade didn’t want the family to stay in the potentially-unsafe house, but Jack says wife Margaret didn’t want to leave, so they made do – and neighbours rallied round with offers of help.
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The council later dealt with the tree and a tarpaulin was put over the hole in the roof.
It took a long time for permanent repairs to be completed, though – it was the late spring or early summer of the following year before everything was finished. One bit of luck was that because the house was only about nine months old, it was easy to get new bricks to match.
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Looking back, Jack acknowledges: “It really was a lucky escape. And however would I have felt, after telling Margaret [regarding children Tracy and brother Paul] ‘If they can sleep, let them sleep through it.’ If the worst had come to the worst . . . my goodness. It would have been terrible.”
He and his wife are still in the house. Don’t suppose anything quite so dramatic has happened since . . .
“Well, yes, it has. About seven years ago we had a tremendous flood. We had walls replaced, and ceilings. It was the shower.
“We’d gone to spend Mothering Sunday with Tracy, I think, so we were out of the house 12 hours plus. We came back and the windows were steamed up. We came in and it was pouring down from the ceiling. The shower had been left on standby and somehow had switched itself on.”
The couple needed to have new carpets and the walls reskimmed; part of the ceiling had to be removed and most of the furniture had to go.
Not the luckiest of homes, perhaps. “I think we’d better move, don’t you?” laughs Jack.
“We do have a lovely outlook now. Where the tree was, a number of other trees had to come out later because they were unsafe, and what they’ve done is plant it and make a wooded area. It’s superb – even better, really.”
So some good has come of it, then.
“Yes. It’s an ill wind, as they say!”