In 2001 we experienced a hugely traumatic event in Cumbria, our county was ravaged by foot and mouth disease, it began in early February and by late March virtually the whole of the County was restricted and lifestock was culled in the thousands. Some estimate that as many as 20,000,000 animals were slaughtered during the course of the year. Where they found an outbreak livestock within a three mile radius were culled-this was refered to as a pre- emptive cull.
I remember driving along the cavernous empty motorway, virtually nothing seemed to travel along the M6 other than the slaughter trucks with their “Livestock reduction programme” signage and the trucks eventually carrying the rotting carcasses to burial sites like the one at Great Orton. At the time I was working as an education advisor for Cumbria LEA and although my schools were all in the South Cumbria area much of the work we did was as part of a team and covered the whole of Cumbria, travelling to Penrith and Carlisle was part of my weekly routine. Part of our team’s remit was to support schools in supporting the mental health and well being of their student populations and so the we did play a very large part in the later responses to the crisis.
At first it was the smell of burning pyres that haunted me most, the smell of roasting flesh, the pyres were enormous beyond anything anyone could possibly imagine and often burned for weeks on end until the Department for public health declared the smoke as dangerous to health and forbid them to be used a as a disposal method anymore- that was when they moved on to creating huge burial pits for the never ending trucks full with the carcasses of dead farm animals. Then I remember the stench of rotting flesh as the carcasses were dumped at Great Orton. Too many were culled to be able to transport or buru them in a timely manner and the army was drafted in to help with the process. My husband was drafted in to work for atwo week shift, they weren’t allowed to come home during that time and it took him many months to recover from the tasks he was asked to do during that time. The dead animals lay bloated and rotting on smallholdings and farms and the build up of gas was so dangerous that their bellies had to be punctured before they could be dumped in teh over burdened pits. You could smell Great Orton from my parents house some 10 miles away in Port Carlisle if the wind was in the right direction. There are 26 trenches at Great Orton and in them just less than half a million carcasses. It has now been turned into a nature reserve as a memorial- Watchtree.
Dave bought me a lemon scented air freshener for my car so that my nose had some respite from the constant stench of trauma and it gave me a different aroma to focus on during those lengthier journeys. Trouble is the lemon scent became associated with the scent of the trauma it was tryi g to over come and I cannot bear to have lemon scented air freshener any more in my car, or for that matter in the house.
This pandemic will also have it’s own smell, for me, as I work from home in my extended isolation the aromas are pleasant, coffee roasting in the pot, good nutritious home cooking on the stove or in the oven, the clean crisp smell of a frosty winter morning as I go for a gentle jog.
The aromas for many others will be unforgettable, unimaginable and will become the unmistakeable stench of trauma to them for the rest of their living days. Our trauma from foot and mouth was quickly forgotten and the things we put in place to safeguard against the trauma for the children and their families have long since vanished but the smell will never go.
We must care for these people onec the pandemic is over, we must acknowledge the trauma that they have suffered, as it will always be a part of them and the memory will never fade when it has such a strong olfactory association.
Dedicated to all those who know and have known the stench of trauma.
If you wish to read a little mor about the FMD 2001
Alison Jean Hankinson