During the evening of 15 October 1987 I watched the next day’s weather forecast in preparation for attending a job interview in Marchwood, close to Southampton on the channel coast. Winds were very light over most parts of the UK. A depression was drifting slowly northwards over the North Sea off eastern Scotland. Over the Bay of Biscay, a depression was developing. The evening forecaster jokingingly reported, “Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way; well, if you’re watching, don’t worry, there isn’t, but having said that, actually, the weather will become very windy, but most of the strong winds, incidentally, will be down over Spain and across into France.”
Next morning I was up early and on the road heading for the A34. This remember was when the M40 was a mere flicker in the minds of transport planners! As I headed south it began to rain and by the time I was approaching the Oxford bypass the wind was slamming the downpour into the side of the car which made steering in a straight line, difficult to say the least. At a traffic island, approaching Newbury, a tree had been uprooted and traffic was diverted around the right hand side of the island. On the other side of the town I stopped for breakfast at a ‘greasy cafe’ for a ‘bacon buttie’. The Television above the counter was showing the devastation across the area that I was travelling. I was but a short distance from my destination and decided to continue and be there at the appointed time.
The storm had made landfall in Cornwall, before tracking northeast towards Devon and then over the Midlands, going out to sea via The Wash. The strongest gusts, of up to 100 knots (190 km/h; 120 mph), were recorded along the south-eastern edge of the storm, hitting mainly Sussex, Essex and Kent. The Royal Sovereign lighthouse some 6 miles off Eastbourne recorded wind speeds on their instruments pegged at 110mph – off scale high!! The storm caused substantial damage over much of England, downing an estimated 15 million trees including six of the seven famous oak trees in Sevenoaks, historic trees in Kew Gardens, and Scotney Castle and most of the trees making up Chanctonbury Ring. Fallen trees blocked roads and railways and left widespread structural damage to buildings. Several hundred thousand people were left without power, which was not fully restored until more than two weeks later. Local electric utility officials later said they lost more wires in that one storm than in the entire preceding decade. At sea, as well as many small boats being wrecked, a ship capsized at Dover and a Sealink cross-channel ferry, the MV Hengist, was driven ashore at Folkestone. 18 people were killed; London lost power for the first time since the Blitz and £1.9 billion of damage was caused.
The départements of Finistère, Morbihan, Côtes-d’Armor and Ille-et-Vilaine in Brittany, and the départements of Manche and part of Calvados in Normandy were the areas in France most affected. Following a line from Morbihan and Rennes to Deauville. 1.79 million homes were left without electricity supply and water, and a quarter of Brittany’s forest was destroyed. The total damage was estimated at £2.4 billion.
Despite my determination to reach Marchwood on time neither other candidates nor the interview panel did. By lunchtime I was back on the return journey awaiting another call to attend the rearranged interview. Again a few weeks later I made the journey south I had a good interview but was not offered the position.