HAVE you found it cold this week, with temperatures a degree or two below freezing?

Forty years ago, a serious ‘big freeze’ was followed by snow so thick that most of Dorset and Hampshire was brought to a standstill.

On Saturday, February 11, the Evening Echo reported: “Dorset and Hampshire last night shivered through the big freeze – and early this morning weathermen were recording the lowest air temperature for years.”

Bournemouth saw its coldest temperature since 1972, at minus 6.9C, while Hurn recorded minus 7.7C, a five-year low. Cold air was being blown in from Siberia by a strong easterly wind, the paper said.

It coincided with an overtime ban among fuel tanker drivers which was disrupting deliveries. Bournemouth’s Bath Road service station closed and the Queen Elizabeth Centre at Wimborne was set to close until its next oil delivery.

Robert Adley, the MP for Christchurch and Lymington, wrote to prime minister James Callaghan and Transport and General Workers Union leader Jack Jones urging them to intervene.

The weather deteriorated the following week, with the Echo of Thursday February 16 declaring: “The big slither is on”.

Driving sleet, followed by heavy snow and freezing temperatures, had led to the closure of the southbound A338 spur road overnight.

Five inches of snow were recorded around Shaftesbury, while the AA was receiving hundreds of calls an hour about cars that wouldn’t start.

That night, up to six inches of snow fell. Many drivers abandoned their cars, while snow ploughs were sent to the A35 near Puddletown, where several lorries jackknifed.

Despite the disruption, and an AA warning to keep off the roads if possible, the buses kept running and a plane to Newcastle took off from Hurn Airport, albeit two hours late after the runway was cleared of snow.

The actor John Alderton was pictured playing snowballs at Rhinefield, the Brockenhurst stately home where he was filming an episode of Wodehouse Playhouse for the BBC.

On Monday, February 20, the Echo reported the “Big dig out of chaos”.

It said: “Dorset was today attempting to wriggle clear of the snow blanket under which it disappeared in one of the worst blizzards in living memory. But there was little movement other than in the towns.”

The AA said: “Every A-class road is either blocked by the snow or has been closed by the police to enable clearing to go ahead.”

The airport was closed, although one member of its handling team walked five-and-a-half miles through snow to get to work and answer calls.

The Bournemouth to Weymouth railway line was closed and there was only a skeleton service to London. A train did get through from Bournemouth to Carlisle, however – taking back holiday makers who had come to enjoy the mild weather of the south coast.

East Dorset villages including Witchampton and Cranborne were cut off, while many phone lines were down.

In the towns, the phone exchanges were so busy that people had to be cut off to keep lines open for emergency calls.

Hants and Dorset buses could not get out of the garages. Bournemouth Corporation vehicles ventured onto the main roads on the Monday, but could not get down some side roads or onto the West Howe estate.

Some Bournemouth council staff were working round the clock with tractors and shovels. Deputy engineer Bob Lelliott said: “They have been working solidly over the weekend. Some men haven’t even been home. The staff have been absolutely marvellous.”

In the North Dorset village of Fontmell Magna, five police officers, two ambulances, a doctor, a district nurse and two soldiers all failed to get through 10ft drifts to a 24-year-old farmer’s wife who was having a child at Middle Farm Bungalow. A bid to reach her by helicopter had to be called off because of the weather.

However, Alice Woodward, 24, had her baby delivered on the bedroom floor, attended by her husband Laurence and cousin Sally Phipps. Laurence stayed on the phone to Odstock Hospital in Salisbury, which told him when to cut the cord after delivering their healthy boy, William.

Over the next few days, a big thaw took place, raising fears of flooding in some areas.

And on Saturday, February 25, the Echo reported some of the good deeds done during the cold snap, under the headline “Bless ‘em all – the Samaritans of the snow”.

The paper said: “The snow not only brought out the ploughs, the gritting lorries and the RAF rescue helicopters, but also the true nature of the British people.“Now, we’re snowed under with letters full of praise and thanks for the God Samaritans who have cleared pathways, pushed cars and run errands for the elderly.”

One reader wrote: “We are often referred to as the easy-going, sleepy British, but given a situation like the ‘Snow Chaos’, out comes our true bulldog spirit together with consideration for each other.”