Do you remember Sunday 21st May 1950 when a tornado swept across southern England? I certainly do. The BBC reported that: ‘Two people have died in violent storms and a tornado which have devastated southern England. Several others were injured in lightning strikes and fierce winds which caused massive damage to property around London.’ The two who died were both struck by lightning as they ran for shelter while three others with them were injured and taken to hospital.
The worst damage, however, was to property caused by the tornado which began in the late afternoon. Eyewitnesses spoke of a dense, black cloud gathering on the horizon. It quickly developed into the dark column of a tornado and swept through towns and villages across the top of London as far as the Cambridgeshire fens, leaving ruin in its wake. The Linslade village in Buckinghamshire suffered as the wind wrecked hundreds of houses and other buildings as it tore through the streets and surrounding fields. In Linslade alone there was some 200 houses damaged – 50 of them very badly. The Ministry of Supply handed out some 450 tarpaulins to cover damaged roofs.
One resident described the scene: “When we looked out of the side of the house, clouds appeared to be coming together in different directions. I believe I saw the actual source of the tornado.”
Whole streets of houses were stripped of their roof tiles and furniture inside the houses was ruined by the heavy rain which followed.
There were some extraordinary scenes as the tornado passed over: hundreds of trees were uprooted, drawn into the air and dropped some distances away; parked cars were lifted and moved and cattle and horses were whirled into the air and dumped in nearby fields. Two people died in the violent storms. They were Frederick Cast and James Perry, of Kempston in Bedfordshire. Both were struck by lightning and killed as they ran for shelter. Three others with them were injured and taken to hospital. Several others were injured in lightning strikes and fierce winds which caused massive damage to property around London.
Other towns in the tornado’s path were also badly affected. In the town of Leighton Buzzard, a shop in the high street was struck by lightning and set on fire, while in Ely, Cambridgeshire, a double-decker bus was overturned.
There were warnings of further flooding throughout the entire region, and it was advised that the difficult weather conditions would probably continue for quite some time. They were not wrong but things were much ‘less worse’!