Search Goes on in Stricken Canvey

Daily Sketch Feb 2nd, 1953

Inside the Benfteet, Essex. "missing persons bureau." Anxious relatives study a blackboard recording names of flood victims who have passed through the rest centre. Many evacuees were reunited with their families by this means. The "bureau" was run entirely by volunteers.
In the darkness and the gale, families became separated. So one function of the hastily opened rest centre in the Methodist church at Benfleet, Essex, is to compile a register of those rescued-like this boy- from the Canvey Island flood.

By Daily Sketch reporters Olga Franklin and Peter Stewart

On Canvey Island—the island of the dead —hit by three tidal waves, rescuers were still searching for 656 missing people late last night.

Throughout darkness hundreds of police, troops and volunteers fought to rescue the remainder of the island’s 11,500 in­habitants. They had to work fast before the morning tide struck again.

On the mainland ten schools and five halls were set up as information centres to receive those found alive. Twelve thousand refugees were being sent to London.

The tragedy of Canvey Island began on Saturday night when the first mighty wave struck. And twice yesterday the swirling torrents of the sea poured over the houses. Roads became swollen rivers. Everywhere there was debris and dead. And everywhere there was the terrifying gurgle of water.

But the horror or Canvey was not only the dead floating along the streets and pinioned in tree branches, it was the terrible plight of the living.

Many were half-naked like Mrs. Norah Grey and her hus­band and six-year-old daughter Ellen. They swam out of their bed­room window.

One old man, living alone, made his way to safety on an upturned table.

One of the casualties, a taxi-driver, swam back to his wife and three children. As he entered his house it collapsed on him.

In one home a woman and three children were found dead. Mrs. Ada Hall and 13-year-old son floated on their kitchen dresser for several hours before being rescued.

Comments about this page

  • We had a friend Dennis LLoyd who lived on Canvey Island with his mum. During the floods he pushed his mother out with her in an old pram which floated on the water. He waded along until they got to safety. He never went back. In the 1980s we encouraged him to provide an audio tape of his memories, and the tape was donated to the Essex Records Office in Chelmsford. So it is available for people to listen to.

    By Malcolm Lees (14/10/2012)
  • My dad and his family were in the floods and luckily all survived. The photo above of the young boy is my dad Michael Cripps, it has been very interesting hearing his stories of what happened to him during the floods.

    By Michelle Herbert (23/01/2013)
  • The statement about Mr and Mrs Grey and their daughter is not really correct.  They were our next door neighbours, and it was my father who pushed an extension ladder out from our house for Mr Grey to grab and be pulled over to us. Ellen, who was 6 at the time, the same age as my sister, was pushed across in a tin bath.  They joined us, my parents, sister, my Nan, who was in bed with double pneumonia, and my Auntie Freda, who had joined us the night before; she had come to say “goodbye” before going to join her husband in the Army (possibly Egypt).  There were nine of us in our little cramped attic bedroom for two days before we were rescued.  The rescuers were told that there were only holiday bungalows in Sixty Acres.  All we had to drink was water from the hot water bottles, and we tried eating the apples that Mum had ripening in the eaves, but they were dreadfully sour!  We were eventually rescued by the Army, and had to crawl along some planks that Dad had rigged up across the tops of fallen furniture, and then climb up and out of the fanlight window. Nanny was sent first because she was so ill, then Mr and Mrs Grey as Mr Grey was very unwell, then us children, me, aged 10, Cindy my sister and Ellen, both aged 6.  Mum and Dad and my Auntie came last.  Their boat sank and Mum didn’t know she could swim until that night!  They got to the rescue centre in Benfleet only to find that our names had not been recorded.  Apparently when we arrived there the place was full, and so a very kind gentleman took us to his home in Rayleigh, where we stayed until we were found a couple of days later.  My poor parents thought we were drowned.  Mum’s friend from Watford found her way through the police barriers and took my sister and I to her home, where we remained for 6 months. Mum and Dad were given a place to stay by a lovely couple in Benfleet.  It was a horrendous time for everyone, but we were lucky and all survived.  I will always remember my instructions as we climbed out of the window on that freezing day, no coats, no shoes, shivering with cold and fear:  ”Be brave darling, look after the little ones, and don’t cry”! 

    By Anne Keys (04/11/2014)

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