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Surge brings back memories of 1953 for Hunstanton’s Derek

1953 Flood Picture Supplied by Lynn News Reader Derek Bradford from Hunstanton

1953 Flood Picture Supplied by Lynn News Reader Derek Bradford from Hunstanton

The recent tidal surge brought back unpleasant memories of the 1953 floods which left hundreds dead along the east coast.

Fortunately, this time, the damage was minor and most importantly there was no loss of life.

But for Hunstanton man Derek Bradford, the memory 60 years on was particularly strong.

Mr Bradford was a chartered civil engineer who spent his working life involved with river boards and river authorities, including those covering West Norfolk.

Here he recalls what happened back in January 1953 when he was called into action.

I heard on the radio about the damage and the struggle people were having and, being young and eager, I wanted to go and help. Later the deputy chief engineer told me to report to the Sandringham Hotel in Hunstanton the next morning.

“Off I went and found the district engineer (Robert Crompton) had taken over one of the upper floors of the hotel as an office. He had worked as the engineer to the Norfolk Catchment Board and had taken the hotel rooms as a temporary office.

“You have to imagine what the flood was like: The tide, way above its normal level, washed backwards and forwards all night, with people marooned either in or on various buildings and on very old boats which floated off their supports going inland and then out, until finally the tide ebbed and all the floating craft – none of which was seaworthy – were dropped on the remains of the sea banks.

“We had one surveyor, Reg, who was enjoying a night out with his girlfriend on a houseboat – and old fishing smack propped up on the sea bank – and they spent the night in that way, backwards and forwards on the flood, not knowing what would happen to them.

“They were rescued in the morning by RAF men with a truck full of drowned people.

“One chap told Reg and the girlfriend to get in with them but he, although exhausted by the frightening night, flattened him with a big punch.

“In fact there were 62 people drowned along the coast and even more in Holland.

“There were several larger breaches in the sea banks which ran towards Lynn and Mr Crompton put me in charge of the repair works which were carried out with the use of ’dozers, dumpers and scrapers – very large machines.

“All the drivers were very friendly and seemed keen to complete the work as quickly as possible.

“We all worked long hours and they temporarily lived at the Queen Victoria pub in Snettisham.

“I stayed locally as well, because we were working overnight at times (we had had a second very high tide).

“We got all the breaches filled in a few months and then it was back to Cambridge office.

“The next year it was back to Hunstanton ... work which was somehow never quite as interesting.”

Perhaps appropriately Mr Bradford, who was involved so much in sorting out the problems caused by the 1953 flooding, today lives in Leming Crescent in Hunstanton – which is named, of course, after one of the heroes of that terrible night, US airman Reis Leming.

 

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