The Sea Gives Canvey a Respite
From special correspondant Timothy Segrue
Yorkshire Post 4th February 1953
While work continued unceasingly on the island, in Benfleet reception centres Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, accompanied by Princess Margaret, brought sympathy, hope and consolation to the bereaved and homeless.
The long effort to fill the breaches in the sea wall is now showing signs of success. It is an arduous and slow task. Both Servicemen and civilians are tolling eagerly with little respite.
On a badley damaged section of the wall I watched a party of RAF men filling sandbags with mud laid bare as the tide receded.
As one of them replaced yet another bag on the barricade I asked how long he had been on the job. “We left camp at White Waltham at two this morning and we have been working here since seven,” he said. I found he came from Leeds. He was Donald Yules, aged 19, of Throstle Terrace, Middleton, who had recently started a Regular engagement with the Air Force.
“We were eager to help,” he said. Since his arrival he had done several jobs. He had filled sandbags, he had ferried the bags through flooded streets to the sea wall. “It is the only way to get them to where they are needed. It is a long, slow job,” he explained.
I watched as yet another group manhandled the heavy bags from the lorry dumping point on the road across a quagmire to an impoverished landing stage. From here, a few at a time, they were ferried to the sea wall.
From the same impoverished landing stage the little, gaily-painted pleasure dinghies went out to investigate home by home. Occasionally oilskinned oarsmen would slowly bring their little craft back. The stretcher in the centre resting on the two cross seats would be occupied – the blankets would cover the entire form.
“It is a very awkward task to reach each home,” said Mr EA Brown, of Long Road, Canvey Island. He explained that first the little boat had to find a channel through the hedges and fencing and on arrival at a bungalow it was difficult to force an entry because of the weight of the water against doors and sometimes windows.
He told me how late this afternoon he went into one bungalow and found its only occupant, an old lady, lying in the loft, where she had taken refuge. “After three days she was still alive although she was suffering very severely from exposure and could not talk,” he said. Carefully she was ferried to dry land and into a waiting ambulance.
To the homeless and distressed in Benfleet and to the many voluntary workers who had been looking after them – many throughout the three days – the surprise visit by the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret brought happiness and hope.
Through the crowded rooms and corridors the Royal party went, offering solace to mothers who had lost their children and to families who had lost their homes.
To Mrs Margaret Morgan, aged 29, whose legs had been bruised and battered in the recue and were covered with bandages. the Queen Mother spoke for some time. Mrs Morgan’s five year old son Dennis, her husband and her husband’s mother were all drowned.
“The Queen Mother was very kind and understanding,” Mrs Morgan told me afterwards. “She spoke about my little son and my husband and told me to have courage in this tragedy.” Mrs Morgan is staying with her mother in Benfleet.
Throughout her visit to the stricken area the Queen Mother was visibly moved by the suffering and sorrow she saw in the reception centre.
To Squadron Leader D I Acres, a National Service medical officer from Hornchurch Air Crew Selection Centre, who had been in charge of the medical arrangements since Sunday, the Queen Mother said: “I could not rest until I had visited these distressed areas.”
Princess Margaret also spoke to some of the evacuated people. In the canteen she asked Mrs M Edmondson, of the Chelmsford WVS, about the catering arrangements. “When I was introduced the Princess wanted to shake hands with me. I told he mine were dirty but she said that did not matter,” said Mrs Edmondson.
Back on Canvey Island, at the Services headquarters from where the sea defence work is being directed, I watched a lorryload of emergency searchlights being prepared for the nights work. Squads of RAF men will work throughout the night and be relieved by others in the morning. “Everyone is working hard and with a will,” and RAF officer behind his control desk commented.