Flood alerts sounded right down the east coast of England. I phoned my cousin in Great Yarmouth. The situation reminded us both of another January night 64 years ago and what became known as “The North Sea Surge.” I saw it, she was in it.
The evening of Saturday 31st January 1953 saw the 10 year old me with my parents in a social club on Gorleston High Street.
Outside the wind was blowing a gale. Suddenly the band stopped playing and the MC spoke into the microphone. “The tide was over the quay at the harbour’s mouth and still coming in!” Fears were expressed for the inhabitants of houses and prefabs on Pier Plain that were literally on sea level. He then relayed the police request for anyone who could handle a rowing boat to get there as fast as possible.
Dad and two other ex-fishermen were off at once. Mum refused to be left behind and with no one to look after me, dragged me along as well.
By now the storm was so wild I just clung onto her for safety. We got to Pier Plain in time to see a rowing boat about to be launched except there was no plug. Dad snatched a kid glove from a bystander and used that instead. They were off.
I looked out to the harbour mouth, catching sight of heaving waves breaking over the bar and pier.
The overflowing river was then up to first floor windows on Pier Plain and up to the roofs of the perfabs as the two boat crews rowed to the rescue. Their prompt action was to save every inhabitant.
Afterwards, dad told the story of an apparently very pregnant woman. He steered the rowing boat to her bedroom window and got the sash window open. She was wrapped in a voluminous coat and kept repeating “Mind my Baby, Mind my baby!” Naturally they did and made her rescue priority over everyone else. No sooner had they got her to safety than her coat burst open to reveal her “baby”- two cats!
The crews then got back to work. We eventually got home at about 3.00 am.
Next morning and as awake as only a ten-year-old could be, I was off out walking along Southtown Road to see how were my Aunt Winnie and Uncle Billy, just south of the Haven Bridge and my cousin, her husband and parents on Cobholm Island.
I was unable to get anywhere near so had to content myself by walking along the Bollard Quay where the water was so high that a huge Russian timber vessel was heeled over at a 45o angle. What small (idiot) boy could resist the temptation of walking along the quay under it?
Back home the only information came from the BBC Home Service and Light programme news bulletins. It was from them that we learned of the considerable losses of life and widespread damage. As nobody had even a telephone in those days we knew nothing of our relatives for three days.
OVER TO MY COUSIN…
That night we (my husband and I) were not actually at home in Cobholm , but mum and dad with whom we then lived, were. The first I really heard of the flooding was next morning when my brother-in-law, then in the Transport Police told us about it. My first reaction was to get to my parents but of course, there was no way of getting through.
It was only later that I learned of your uncle and aunt. The wind got up incredibly strong. Being practically minded, they had started carrying food, water, coal, pots and pans upstairs where luckily they had open fires in the bedrooms.
It was not long before there was water up to the bedroom windows, and there they were, stuck.
They were not rescued until the Monday- out of the window by a team on the back of a Jewson’s lorry. We all had to evacuate the house and stay with my husband’s parents for several weeks.
There was then the matter of getting things back to normal. What we did not think of were the after effects…the mud and the salt that continued to come out of the walls for years afterwards. What really upset me was the loss of the top tier of my wedding cake. I had been keeping it for our first anniversary but of course, the water got to it.
Later that week I managed to get to my Aunt Winnie and Uncle Billy’s guest house. There they were, doing their best to salvage what they could but what has stuck in my mind ever since was the thick grey, stinking mud that coated walls and floors.
Small wonder a Yarmouth flood warning brings back so many memories! It was not until later when casualties became known that everyone reflected on how lucky we had all been.
The cause of the flooding? Simply that
the wind was so strong it had prevented the ebb tide clearing the harbour before the flood tide arrived.
Still one of the best accounts of the East Coast Floods is “North Sea Surge” by Michael Pollard, Terence Dalton, 1978. ISBN 0 900963 82 4
I do recommend it.