Len Collin's story

Sunday 1st February 1953

It was about 8 o clock on the Sunday morning and I was woken up by a loud speaker. There was a police car outside in the road and they were making an appeal for any able bodied men to go down to the Bell Wharf in the old town of Leigh. I quickly got dressed and went down the road to collect my brother, brother-in-law and also a friend and we went down to Old Leigh to be told Canvey had flooded. We were told that the seawall had breached in several places, owing to the extra high tide the previous night.

When we arrived at Leigh at the Bell Wharf, the cockle boats were bringing lots of people over, plus their cats, dogs and even birds in cages, many people were able to bring their pets onto dry land. There were several Leigh Building Supply Company lorries, so we loaded them up with small rowing boats and climbed on board and headed for Canvey. As we were going down Long Road there were firemen down the side roads, wading through quite deep water and pulling boats filled with people, bringing them to Long Road. There was hardly any water in Long Road up to the Haystack at this time.

When we arrived at the Haystack we were met by police, soldiers and ambulance men who directed us to Central Wall Path, which was just narrow pathway raised like a seawall. In the new Central Wall Road some of the bungalows on one side of the path had water up to the gutters and people were sitting on their roofs waiting to be rescued by the boats. As we went further along the path we were told about a large house which was isolated and had about 2 foot of water around it, about 75 yards away from the path. There were a group of people waiting and they agreed to be rescued in a boat, which we then pulled back to the path and they walked back to the Haystack.

There was one elderly disabled lady who refused to leave home. We then went further on and were told about a family of 8 who had a shop situated underneath their flat, the floor had given way and they had fallen through to the bottom. After dark the elderly lady changed her mind and decided she wanted to be rescued but would not go into a boat. She was quite a large lady and it took some soldiers and us to carry her to the Haystack, which was about a third of a mile. When we arrived she was put into an ambulance and taken to hospital.

It was getting on for 6 o clock by this time and we hadn’t had anything to eat or drink all day and it was freezing cold, so we caught a bus back to Benfleet Station and it was a free ride for anyone who had been helping out. All the people had stayed overnight in a hall near to where I lived on the Sunday night. On the Monday people were being asked if they had any spare rooms to put them up in for a while. We had a couple and their three children for three months. They were a lovely family and stayed in touch with us for years afterwards. The family were the Johnsons, possible from Larup Road area. Chris Johnson worked in the butchers shop in the High Street.

Comments about this page

  • Hello The Johnsons lived in Rainbow road, and I took over Chris Johnson’s Saturday job at Lewins the butchers when he left school—-7/6 [37p] a day. Regards Sparrow

    By sparrow (28/02/2013)
  • at that time I was stationed at RAF 4 MT company kidbrooke when we were requested late one night to help save Canvey Islanders from flooding! Anyone reading this were you a DR at that time working from 4MT?

    By jack breen (11/02/2014)
  • Hi there – The Johnsons would’ve been my grandparents Fred & Gladys who lived in Rainbow Avenue. Their children are Alan Johnson, Chris Johnson (My Dad) and Anne.
    I’ve heard many stories of their stay in Leigh on sea and have a very distant memory of visiting the family with my dad at one point probably around 1977ish

    By Samantha Pattison nee Johnson (26/02/2021)

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