Farmer Leach is general in battle of the 25 gaps

Evening Standard 3rd February1953

To-day I met the man who is the driving force behind the immense effort being made to save Canvey. Farmer Frederick J. Leach, 60, tall and slightly bent, who is chairman of the Canvey Island Council, looked round on the 1500 flooded acres of his own Waterside Farm as he talked of “Operation breach block.”

“I was born on this island and my father farmed here before me,” he said. “We have, been flooded before, but never like this. It was something that nobody could foresee.” All through the night of Saturday/Sunday farmer Leach, his wife and a few farmhands fought to save cattle, sheep, chickens and the farm itself. In the darkness a haystack drifted by. It is now on its side half a mile away. The crop lands disappeared under sea water. They are ruined for two or three years to come. The animal feeding stuff was spoiled. On Sunday morning, the man who knows every inch of Canvey Island, looked round on a scene that threatened him with ruin. His face is still drawn with tiredness and worry.

In the first hours of day­light which followed the floods, Farmer Leach turned his mind to the tragedy of the Island as a whole. He made his way through the waters to inspect every one of the 25 breaches in the island defences. Some were only half a mile from his farm. To get to them, he passed the meadow which is now a deep lake with a score of overturned chicken houses sticking out of the water and the high wheels of farm vehicles just visible. Other breaches were more than four miles away. Farmer Leach saw them all. And with the council surveyor, made his plans. They called for immediate aid from more men than the island could hope to muster.

Pumps wanted

The gaps in the wall must be filled temporarily, new dykes must be dug six-foot wide and four feet deep, sluices must be cleared and pumps must be found. Since Sunday Mr. Leach has striven to get his plan working.

To-day, as the farmer turned again to his own flooded lands, he watched the convoys of troops, the RAF, engineers with pumping equipment, lorry loads of sandbags and sand and cement flow past towards the vital perimeter of the island.

“Speed is everything.” he told me. “I think the authorities understand that now. We have ten days to save Canvey.”

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