Trumpeted by the prime minister as proof that the flooding crisis was under control, the 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers was ill-equipped to leave its vehicles
Military boots hit the ground in the flood-hit village of Wraysbury on Tuesday, but it quickly transpired they were the wrong kind of boots.
As more than a hundred soldiers from the 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers marched through the Berkshire village that has become the latest frontline in Britain’s battle against rising water, there were neither wellies nor waders in sight.
Here were the men from the military trumpeted by the prime minister as proof the flooding crisis was under control, but residents in the Thameside town complained that when the water got deep, some of them couldn’t even get out of their trucks.
One platoon – supposed to be checking on flooded residents on the embankment – couldn’t get down because the water was so deep. They ended up just sitting in the back of the lorry while locals went about in hip-high rubber boots.
“They were not allowed in the water,” said Ian Yorke, 50, an operations manager at British Airways who lives on the flooded street. “They had no waders, nothing. They didn’t come prepared. It is all window-dressing.”
Other soldiers ploughed in wearing lace-ups, but the situation seemed to sum up the frustration of the residents of Wraysbury, which started going under water at the weekend for the second time this year, but only saw its first concerted official help .
The day began in confusion as the defence secretary, Philip Hammond, told residents he was surprised a team of soldiers and police had not delivered sandbags yet and that he believed they were nearby. When local organisers checked, it became clear they were not.
When the troops finally arrived from their base at Tidworth in Wiltshire, they received no more than a grudging welcome from residents who had been mounting their own rescue operations and patrols of the village for several days and had not slept much.
“The first thing that was on the national news last night [Monday] was Wraysbury and all of a sudden today it is madness,” said Kerry Willoughby. “It is just crazy: too little, too late. Too many people have lost a lot of things and it shouldn’t have had to come to this. And all of these vans are more of a hindrance than anything else.”
“This is ridiculous,” added Beverley McCauley. “What are they doing here today? I just don’t know what they are going to do. The damage is already done. I think they have to be seen to be doing something. I’ve seen three truckloads of sandbags go in, when there were none yesterday or the day before.”
The commander in charge even acknowledged they had arrived well after the recovery operation had begun.
“I wouldn’t say the work has been done, but it was very much under way when we arrived,” admitted Major Jim Skelton. “One of our roles today is to help fill sandbags and fill them …read more