Freezing Britons send aid parcels to frozen Poland

Along the quiet, ordered streets of Oxshott, Cobham, and Esher in the green belt of farms, riding horses, and gentility south of London, the tumultuous events in Poland have a very human face.

On those streets, and in Manchester and other British cities, families watch television broadcasts and read news accounts of the crisis in Poland with the bated breath of personal involvement.

For months now, those families have been devoting time and energy to sending practical help to Polish adults and children beset by harsh winter and a collapsing economy. They have crated up and dispatched some 20 tons of wheat, urgently needed baby food, canned goods, and other necessities.

The harsh winter that hassuddenly descended on Britain in recent days - snow, ice, temperatures as low as 25 below zero on the centigrade scale (more than 8 degrees below zero Fahrenheit) - heightened the sense of identifying with Poland , which has such weather every year.

In the gentle Surrey village of Oxshott, Primrose Bouch is one of those who have responded with concern. Seeing the appeals for aid, she asked at her child's school whether other parents would like to donate as well.

''I really hadn't bargained for the response,'' she said. Cans and packages came pouring in, enough to fill seven or eight large moving crates.

Mrs. Bouch worked for 10 days labeling it all. The Esher Rotary Club took a hand and agreed to send it on to collection points in Manchester.

But she still had to pack paper and cardboard containers into biscuit (cookie) tins, ending up with not a biscuit tin in her house.

She takes such efforts in her stride. Others do, too: Television reports say the Manchester collection center has been sending 20 tons of supplies a week.

Meanwhile, that Siberian weather here caught the normally phlegmatic British by surprise. ''Snow is all very well on Christmas cards,'' sniffed one Briton disapprovingly, ''but, well. . . .''

It wasn't just the woman who awoke to find her false teeth frozen in their customary glass of water by her bed. It wasn't just the snow drifts up to 10 feet deep that blocked roads in the southwest, in the north, and elsewhere. It wasn't just the disruptions to rail and air traffic.

It was the sheer unexpected, unforecast, unprecedented ferocity of the high winds and driving snow that turned green Britain into an outpost of the Arctic Circle. East winds and snow came in a series of troughs, held over Britain by unusual high pressure ridges south of Iceland.

Friends who operate a dairy farm in Dorset reported by telephone they were having to cope with fierce winds, heavy snowdrifts, and an electricity blackout that lasted for many hours in the southwest on the night of Dec. 13 - all part of the lowest temperatures and worst conditions Britain has known since records began to be kept 100 years ago.

''We have the candles out,'' reported Susan O'Dowd from the Sherborne area of Dorset. ''We are all sleeping down in the kitchen by the coal stove tonight. The only way we can milk the cows is to drive in the big tractor and rig an electricity line from the battery. My husband is out there now trying to protect one of the calf-rearing pens with sheets of wood. We've never seen anything like it.''

''A giant disaster area,'' reported the Royal Automobile Club. In Wiltshire, troops in a British Army arctic warfare unit used a special snowmobile to take two people suffering from intense cold to a hospital in Salisbury. Birmingham's airport was buried by 10 inches of snow in five hours.

The science correspondent of the Guardian newspaper, Anthony Tucker, reports that evidence shows Britain's climate gradually growing colder over the past 30 years - sliding toward a mini ''ice age.''

Evidence also indicates the coldest weather of the last four centuries has occurred in the early 80s, according to Prof. Hubert Lamb. Winter storms in the 1580s decimated the Spanish Armada already beaten by Drake. The last mini ''ice age'' in Britain was 1683 to 1684 when ''frost fairs'' were held on the Thames River.

The 1780s gave Europe the harsh winters that helped precipitate the French Revolution. The 1880s saw some of the worst winters recorded in 19th-century Britain.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.