The Canvey Floods
'Beaver' 1953 by Kenneth MacKinnon
This article appeared in the Newspaper of the Students Union at the London School of Economics and Political Science (University of London)called ‘Beaver’ on the 24th February 1953.
The high seas had tossed about the houseboats moored to the sea dykes; pitched and stranded at odd angles, they presented a sorry sight. Those I entered were strewn with tumbled furniture, crockery and clothing ; several of the occupants lay drowned and battered on the floor amongst their ruined possessions. I helped the stretcher-bearers of the Salvation Army to remove the bodies.
On Monday, the Air Force and Army began repairing the sea walls with sandbags. Taking over a boat, a friend and I ferried sandbags to the outer sea walls, where the troops were working. The Service men did not appear to take their work seriously, some spent the day in a public house, and the two cafes nearby were filled with Service men all day.
On Tuesday the dykes had to be considerably strengthened in order to withstand the sea. I feel that this job might have been fully accomplished on the first day with efficient organisation and more esprit de corps.
Rescue work progressed steadily but haphazardly. A house some fifty yards from the main avenue was found to contain a woman who had survived on top of a table for three days. For two of these days the search party had been in the immediate vicinity and the boat ferrying sandbags had been continually passing her. When she was eventually rescued I was casually informed that I could, if I cared, go and find an ambulance! After some delay my friend and I located an ambulance and lost no time in reaching the woman. She was offered a flask of whisky which she eagerly accepted and might well have drained had she not been prevented.
Whilst returning with the boat for more sandbags we searched nearby houses for other victims; in one we observed a pair of feet projecting from under a wardrobe which had fallen across the bed; on entering and removing the wardrobe we discovered, to our relief, that the “feet” were merely a pair of shoes. Other houses we entered contained the bodies of the occupants lying upon the furniture where the receding water had left them.
On Monday, as I was leaving, I met David Kingsley waiting for transport to take him off the island. He told me his home was standing in four feet of water.
I feel that I must criticise the manner in which the rescue work was carried out in the area where I was working. It seemed to be inadequate and haphazard. Had the dinghies and “flatties” of Benfleet and Leigh been commandeered, they could have been manned with volunteer crews and thorough search made of the area on Monday, with a probable saving of life and a certain easing of anxiety. As it was, many of us were still uncertain of the fate of relatives four days after the disaster.