Counting the cost of a day to remember

Bannerfield Flooding, Selkirk RFC
Bannerfield Flooding, Selkirk RFC

THE Bannerfield flash flood of 2003, 10 years ago this week, was a traumatic day for many who saw the wall of water approaching their homes and schools.

Vivian Rae was among the many Philiphaugh Primary School teachers and children who saw events unfold first-hand. “It was around 3.30pm, and it all just kicked off,” she told TheSouthern. “There was thunder and lightening, and torrential rain. A stream started to come into the playground, sweeping cars away.

“My biggest memory was pulling up my trouser legs and heading out to the playground saying, ‘I’ve got to move my car!’. Then the head teacher [Mrs Vannan] told me, ‘It’s too late’.”

Teacher Elma Heatlie recalled: “The kids would have been swept off their feet if they’d been in that. The sky went a funny colour, then all hell broke loose.”

“The children were nearly all away,” Vivian remembered with relief. “We had football club on Friday out on the green, so around 10 kids were still here. The boys came in when the torrential rain started. The stream then came into the primary 1 classroom, and we used gym mats to stop the water. We took the kids up to the staff room, and the head teacher raided the tuck shop for chocolate bars.”

“The kids thought it was the most exciting thing,” Vivian’s fellow teacher Colette Edie continued, “to go up into the staff room and eat chocolate. The kids were even more excited to see the firemen. The logs in the playground for kids to sit on had floated into people’s gardens.”

Bannerfield Flooding

Bannerfield Flooding

“We got our carpet replaced, and new gym equipment, and the boiler room was flooded, but we were very lucky compared to the houses,” Vivian recalled, “the most damage was done to the playground.”

While their damp, damaged houses were repaired, many displaced Bannerfield families were homed in a caravan park by the swimming pool across the Ettrick Water. Teacher Alison Tiemasson added: “We got the most amazing writing from the first-hand experience of the kids. We had an awareness some kids had been homeless, living in the caravan park. We knew whose families have been affected, and tried to treat them with sensitivity and empathy.”

Over the road, Selkirk Rugby Club chairman John Smail arrived at the submerged pitch after an emergency call. “People were just looking with disbelief,” he told us. “The sun was out, it was still, but the water was over three feet deep up to the railings. The blue waste bins were floating in the middle of the pitch, and the water pressure was so great the skip had moved from the side to the front of the clubhouse.

“Everything flooded: the dressing rooms, the showers, the medical and committee rooms, and the lounge building had to be demolished and rebuilt. It was this toxic sludge: the water had gone through farmyards, picked up oil ... the pitch had to be stripped and reseeded. We lost paper records and files. We had £440,000 worth of damage.

“It was incredible how everyone in the community was in support and came out to help. It was most heartening, people asking, ‘What can I do?’, and just got down to it. Everyone rallied around. The silver lining was that we’ve now got this first-class lounge facility. It was a blessing in disguise, having this fresh start.

“But we didn’t have to live at the rugby club: we were all conscious people at Bannerfield had had their lives affected.”