Having first hand experience of the 1953 floods I have tried many times to find answers as to why the people of Canvey did not get any warning of the impending tidal surge. The UK Meteorological Office issued its first weather warning on Friday 30th that a severe storm was developing in the North Sea with a 964mb low pressure in the storm centre over the northern North Sea travelling south with a local storm surge 5.6 metres above mean sea level with wind speeds of 126 mph, the highest ever recorded, further warnings were issued on Saturday 31st in the morning. As I have said living on a houseboat all my life I knew on Saturday morning that something was wrong, it is similar to a Tsunami, before the The tidal wave hits land the sea level drops beforehand, the morning tide was at least 8ft below normal it did not even reach our houseboat which should have floated with a draught of 4ft 6” and on a normal tide would have 4ft of water below the keel. The main piece of equipment on our boat was a Barometer, I have never ever seen the pressure drop so quickly as it did on that day, another essential a Tide Table we also had an old valve radio powered by Accumulator to get the shipping forecasts which gives pressure readings, wind speed, sea state and visibility.
I spoke to Bernhard Griffiths & Joe Wyatt both members of Canvey Yacht Club that morning expressing my concerns, they agreed that something was wrong, when the tide started flowing at again at 4pm on Saturday afternoon with over 9 hours to high tide I went to see Joe again and he came and had a look and could not believe what he saw, he thought it would just ebb again like it did that morning, I suggested that we got his dinghy, moored over the sea wall and carry it to his house but he said he did not think it was necessary, I warned the other 3 occupied houseboats to expect a very high tide.
The mooring ropes on our 60ft houseboat where 3” hemp which where triangulated fore & aft to keep the boat in the same position, with spare length on each to allow for different tide height when the tide reached its peak in the early hours of 1st February we had very little spare rope left, the water was about 9” below the top of the sea wall, from the foredeck to the waterline was 7’ 6” normally standing on the foredeck at high tide it was just possible to see over the sea wall.
That night I could see all of Newlands and actually saw and heard the wall breached and could see the water rushing through at the bottom of Brandenberg Road.
Now in my 80th year and 60 years on I still wonder why Canvey did not get an earlier warning, I know that no flood warnings were in place in 1953 but Hunstanton was flooded at 5.45, in Essex the Harbourmaster at Harwich informed the police at 9.45pm of the impending flood and at 10.05pm Harwich was flooded, the duty Sergeant at Canvey Police Station was warned of flooding at 11.20pm he deployed his Constables to the south side of Canvey sea wall. Essex River Authority phoned Councillor Leach at 11.54pm and he deployed his wall walkers who risked their lives trying to warn Residents near Tewkes Creek but it was to late.
Quote taken from Essex Police History Note book No 27
‘A flood warning device fitted on Southend Pier had activated at 11.15 pm and Southend Borough Police were able to pass the warning on to Grays ’
It has to be realised that police radio communications were in thelr infancy and communications relied on telephones, no mention of warnings to other places at risk, particularly Canvey which is below Sea Level
My other concerns where there was no outside help in Newlands and Sixty Acre’s untill after midday on Sunday, yet 4 press photographers managed to get to Small Gains Creek at 10.15am via Mitchells Avenue. My wife was rescued by her Uncle and a friend who carried a dinghy from the Haystack to Central Wall Path at 2pm on Sunday and then had to walk to Canvey Road along the path and were eventually picked up by Army lorry near the bridge.
In my story of that night I gave up at dawn I had been rowing for over 6 hours, cold, tired and completely exhausted the final straw for me was when I found Mr White had died on the roof of his bungalow from exposure because he would not get into my dinghy, then all my emotions kicked in, I cried for a long time, with lots of thoughts going through my mind, should I have tried to warn the people of Newlands would they have taken any notice of a 20 year old on a motor bike I could have covered all of Newlands which was sparsely populated this time of year, and could I have done more, then it turned to extreme anger knowing in my mind this should not have happened.
These thoughts have plagued me all my life.
I have read many stories posted on CCA of heroic actions of families who were flooded and many lost their lives doing so, I hope that Janet manages to get a permanent memorial in Jotmans Lane Cemetery.
I often wonder how many of the younger generation read the stories of the 1953 Floods, at least they can sleep safely in their beds with the knowledge that Canvey has one of the best Sea Defences in the Country.