West Norfolk: Tide of terror... - SEE PICTURES

Norfolk Floods Book by Neil R.Storey
Norfolk Floods Book by Neil R.Storey
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THE terrifying days of when flood water lashed at the coast of West Norfolk, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake, is detailed in a new book.

Historian Neil Storey chronicles incredible acts of courage along with the loss of life in his book, Norfolk Floods.

Water surged across the county’s towns and countryside in the severe floods of 1912, 1938 and 1953.

A total of 307 people across the county were killed in the 1953 floods with 40,000 people evacuated and 24,500 homes damaged.

The flood on Saturday, January 31, proved to be devastating for West Norfolk with more than 50 people losing their lives.

Mr Storey writes: “That fateful night also provoked incredible acts of selfless heroism from members of the emergency services, US and British servicemen, and very much in the spirit of Dunkirk and the Blitz. Extraordinary acts of heroism and kindness were to be found during and after the flood disaster from ordinary people.”

While many people were getting ready for a Saturday night or enjoying their dinner, Lynn harbour master Capt J Nicholson and police Chief Supt Fred Calvert raised the alarm because of the rising water levels.

The dockside was hit first by the flood at 6pm, trapping several people near Page Stair Lane, before the deluge moved further into the town.

As the flood swelled, police and firemen led rescue squads while the town’s Home Guard unit provided wireless communication when the lines went down.

Fifteen people died in the town, nearly all of them elderly residents in South Lynn.

Further along the coast, Snettisham was also hit badly by the floods and there were 25 deaths.

Mr Storey said: “This little village lost 25 people, the second highest death toll of anywhere in Norfolk and Suffolk, and it would have been far worse had it not been for the bravery, spirit and resourcefulness of local people working together to help their neighbours.”

The alarm was raised in Snettisham at about 6.15pm thanks to telephone calls from Lynn. This prompted some villagers to walk out to the beach to warn others.

Residents used their limited transport to rescue crowds of people from the beach front to the Station Inn, which was used as a make-shift aid station, the church hall and Leslie’s Tea Rooms. A temporary morgue was also set up later in the night.

Five medals were awarded to residents and Mr Storey highlights the courageous acts of many villagers, among them 19-year-old Peter Beckerton, who lived near the beach with his parents Frederick and Vera.

Peter died while trying to help elderly neighbours with his father, and he was posthumously awarded the Albert Medal.

His mother and village bobby PC Henry Nobbs were awarded the British Empire medal for another rescue mission.

The worst devastation was seen in Hunstanton where 31 people died. Along the seafront, waves of an estimated 7ft high crashed into wooden bungalows.

American Staff Sgt Freeman Kilpatrick was awarded the George Medal after rescuing 18 people when he swam through the floods.

US airman Reis Leming was awarded the George Medal for his part in a rescue mission mounted from the Sculthorpe base.

The 6ft 3ins airman pushed a rubber dinghy into the sea and saved people from the ruins of seafront bungalows. He fought against the current and travelled a distance of three-quarters-of-a-mile in his rescue mission. He was taken to hospital at 4.45am after becoming unconscious.

A group of Americans and taxi driver Neil Quincey nearly drowned while trying to rescue his family from their bungalow. Eventually they were able to escape thanks to the dinghy pushed by Reis.

Hunstanton St John Ambulance Divisional Supt R Smith received the British Empire Medal for helping to lead the medical effort.

Supt Smith is quoted in the book: “One lad told me that his mother and father were washed away, another man told me his wife and child were in a bungalow which suddenly disappeared. An American suddenly broke down and said: ‘Wife and children gone. The house is not there.’

“My saddest night was Sunday when I looked in at the temporary mortuary and saw a sweet little American boy, about the age of four, all dressed so warmly, beside a woman, no doubt his mother.”

n Norfolk Floods, an Illustrated History, costs £19.99 and is published by Halsgrove.