Bulrush Baby Looks Back
Linda Foster in the Echo 1973
Hundreds perished when the cruel sea ravaged Britain’s east coast in the biggest flood disaster of the century – 20 years ago today, in the early hours of February, 1953.
But one tiny girl, just two months old, survived against all odds the horror and the heartbreak of that tragic night. She was the “baby in the bulrushes.”
She was found floating in her pram near her submerged Canvey home – while her parents lay dead in the water below.
Today, 20 years on from that gale-lashed night, Linda Foster spoke of the parents she never knew and the catastrophe she does not remember.
Pretty 20 year old Linda still lives on the island with the grandparents who became mother and father to her. She works as a bank clerk in Benfleet. Like any other youngster she enjoys dancing and parties – and bears little trace of the story of pathos that touched the hearts of millions.
Only one memento remains. The solitaire diamond ring she wears on her left hand and which once belonged to her mother. “It is just sentimentalism, I suppose,” she said. “I obviously never knew my real mother. But I was given it when I was 16 by my grandmother, who I’ve always known as mother. And I have worn it ever since.”
Linda was speaking at her grandparents’ cosy little bungalow in Southwick Road, where a wedding photo of her dead parents hangs on the wall.
She said: “My grandparents have been the best mother and father anybody could ask for.” Her grandmother hugged her and said: You should never have favourites as a mother – but Linda was always something extra special.”
Mrs Elsie Stevens, 64, and her husband Charles are Linda’s legal guardians until she becomes 21 in November. Mr Stevens, 65, a former Canvey postman, said: “Linda was the biggest miracle of the disaster. They called her the baby in the bulrushes after the Biblical story of Moses – and loved for it. She was often asked to present bouquets at ceremonies marking the floods, and as a child she was showered with presents from well-wishers. To us Linda has been another daughter. And we’re forever grateful for her. She was a constant reminder to both of us that we have much to be grateful for.”
But for Linda, who “never even caught a cold” when she was scooped to safety from her brand-new £20 pram, the floods don’t register. She said: “When people talk about the flood and about me in the pram I realise it could have been someone else. As a child I just thought everybody got presents from people they’d never met, and was asked to present bouquets. There are a lot of people I wish I had thanked for their kindness – people I never knew.”
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I have been researching the family of Linda’s great grandmother, Sarah Ann Dillingham for almost 34 years and Linda and I are 4th cousins. Imagine my surprise when I decided to expand Sarah Ann Dillingham’s family 🙂
Found this when searching for information about my brother’s friends, one of whom died in the flood. We had a small holiday chalet in Miltson Avenue, and the house behind us was owned by the Stevens family. From memory they managed to get into the loft of their house, but one of the older children broke a leg somehow.
We got on famously with them and if it hadn’t been for the flood, would have ended up living on the Island. Dad had obtained planning permission to build a bungalow on the plot.
Dad took great pride in the red hot pokers he had grown. He got up one morning to find that Charles had tied big pink bows round each stem. Much laughter ensued. Dad sold the plot for the same price as the purchase, £200. How much would a plot fetch now?
We revisited the Stevens family in their new home a while after the flood but lost touch. I now live on the Island, not too far from Miltson. It feels odd to drive past the old hump of the original sea wall around Tewkes and remembering wearing holes in my trousers sliding down the sides on my backside, sometimes ending up in the fetid waters of the ditch at the bottom. Happy days. Hope Linda is keeping well in these odd times.
Planning application for W. M. HOUSDEN, for extension to property Lenton down Miltsin Road was approved 2nd Dec 1952
Oh, my word ! That is incredible ! Thanks, Martin. I had forgotten the name of that little place. I thought it was Lentom after the children of the original owner ? So many happy memories of the Island then and the Stevens family. Sad ones too of lost friends. The name Starling comes to mind. Not sure if it was a family name or nickname but one lad, early teens who went back several times to pull family out but ended up getting trapped. It would have been in that area.
As a child during the war I lived in East London and near the end of the war and after, stayed with my Grandparents and Aunt Ethel Pollards. They lived opposite the Foster’s and survived the flood by standing on their porch in chest high freezing water for many hours. They then all moved back to London. Every time I went down to Canvey I used to play cricket with Linda’s uncle Johnny.
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