A retired army major took a sentimental journey to the foothills of the High Tatras in Slovakia after a 70 year old bridge was used to ‘rescue’ a small community stranded by freak summer storms.
Major Terry Butterworth, who was with the now-defunct Duke of Wellington Regiment based in the West Riding of Yorkshire, was told about the bridge as he visited friends in the small Central European city of Poprad.
He said: “There was a lot of talk about this bridge which appears to have been surplus to requirements at the end of world war II and when I had a free moment I thought I would like to visit it.”
The original bridge, near the Hills Hotel in Stara Lesna, six miles from Poprad, was washed away causing chaos last July. Some villagers were stranded on the wrong side of the raging river.
For three days many couldn’t use their cars as a small ford from one side to the other was obliterated by the floods too. The freak storms in the Tatras were so bad that a number of houses were damaged and left without electricity.
It was then that local firefights had a brainwave. They remembered the old ex-Army Bailey Bridge which had been left to rot near their station.
Founder of AquaCity group, which the Hills Hotel is part of, Dr Jan Telensky, said: “Suddenly, it was like the spirit that grew in Europe at the end of the war had returned to this beautiful spot … community pulled together to help community. It made everybody round here proud.”
The firefighters actually evacuated nearly 230 people from hotels, villas and cottages and took them to the local school.
Other villages in the Tatras, including Osturňa, Ždiar, Tatranská Javorina, Majere, Podolínec and Stráňany, were also badly hit by the weather.
Major Terry, from Leeds, said: “The Bailey bridge was developed by the British during World War II for military use and they were used all over Europe to replace bridges lost in bombings. It was amazing to see an almost original one being used in a similar way to to help people get back on their feet.”
Donald Bailey, the designer of the bridge, was born in Rotherham, in 1901. He got a BA in Engineering from the University of Sheffield in 1923.
On June 6, 2006, The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (West Riding) ceased to exist as a separate infantry regiment and amalgamated with two other Yorkshire regiments – the Prince of Wales’s Own and The Green Howards. The history of the regiment which goes back three centuries, have been chronicled in a book by Major Terry who is now working on revised edition.