My Memories of Canvey Flood - Alan Johnson Aged 10

by Alan Johnson

Rainbow Road

I lived in a bungalow in Rainbow Avenue at the time of the floods along with my mum, dad, brother and sister. Rainbow Avenue is only a few hundred yards from where the old sea wall was at Small Gains Creek. The area is now used as a cricket pitch and later on my two sons played there for Canvey.

The night of the floods I was coming home from a friend’s birthday party and remember it being bitterly cold with a biting North wind blowing. We had all gone to bed and it was some time in the early hours my brother and I were woken up by our father, who told us to get up and get dressed. We stepped out of bed into about six inches of water which was freezing cold. The water was rising at a rapid pace, it was as if we were taking part in some bad dream. We got ourselves dressed apart from shoes and socks; the water was knee deep and freezing cold by then.We could hear our dog barking and yelping in the kitchen. l tried to open the kitchen door to get to him but the force of the water made it impossible. It was getting very deep now and about this time the lights all went out, the dog was no longer yelping so we assumed that he had drowned.

It was very eerie and frightening with the sound of rushing water and people calling out for help. My father, mother and sister (who was only two) told us to follow them up the hallway towards the front door. The force of water burst open the front door and a wave of water rushed in knocking us all over. Some of the floorboards came up and my mum, who was carrying my sister, fell through, dropping my sister under water, luckily she was grabbed by my father. As we lived in a bungalow there was no upstairs and the water was up to our waists.

At the front of the house there was a wooden veranda which had a 4″rail about 3 to 4 ft above the ground. My father put us on this rail. The water was up to our waists and there we stood for the next few hours, clinging on to the post which held up the house roof, whilst my mum, dad and sister were doing  the same on the other side of the house. I remember feeling very cold and scared. It was a clear night with a full moon but the wind was bitter and we didn’t know when the water was going to stop rising. All  around, you could hear people shouting out for help. A church minister used to live across the street in a two storey house and he was calling out that God was with us and we would all be OK, when he was quickly reminded in very colourful language that he was in a two storey house!

The water level did drop after a few hours and my father moved us back into our bedroom where we were able to perch on the windowsill which was about 8″ wide but at least we were out of the wind. We stayed there for the rest of the night with my father and mother (who were in the next room) calling out to stop us from dropping off to sleep and falling into the water.

The following morning the water level had dropped and my father was able to get into the kitchen where he found our dog, who was still alive and sitting on top of the gas stove. We all gathered together in the kitchen, standing on chairs. The dog was later transferred to the ironing board as the top of the gas stove was now just out of the water. My father was able to light the gas rings to give us some heat and there was birthday cake from my friend’s party that I had gone to the night before. It had been put in a cupboard above the water.

We were all very tired , cold & hungry. The poor old dog, who also missed his sleep kept nodding off, nearly toppling into the water and had to be continually woken up. About mid morning we heard somebody calling from the front door. It turned out to be the police and some soldiers in a boat who had come to rescue us. We were all helped into the boat along with the dog and pet budgie who had been hanging in his cage from the ceiling. We were rowed up Rainbow Avenue towards Canvey High Street. I think the High Street was on higher ground as there was only a few inches of water covering it .

The was a convoy of army lorries & buses moving along the High Street, an army lorry stopped and we were all helped onto the back. There was an elderly lady sitting in the lorry and she asked to be dropped off at Benfleet Station as she wanted to catch a train to London. We arrived at Benfleet and my father , being the perfect gent that he was, got off to help the lady down. All he was wearing was a beret, shirt, jumper, white knee length underpants and a pair of Wellington boots (I don’t know where he got them from) but before he could get back on the lorry it had started to move off! And there was my poor old dad running up the road behind the lorry , white pants flapping in the breeze. We were all crying thinking he would be left behind. Eventually the lorry stopped and he was able to climb back on. Seems very funny now but at the time it was very stressful.

It was a brilliant sunny day outside; I remember the sun beaming in through the windows. After spending some time there we were taken to Clifftown church in Southend (I don’t remember how we got there), again there was clothing people had donated plus toys for the children. We were given food and blankets; we all slept on the floor that night along with many other people. I still hadn’t got any trousers after a couple of days  and was noticed by a neighbour of ours who had twin daughters and offered my mum a pair of their slacks for me to wear, which did not go down too well, a boy wearing girls slacks, Urgh!!

A well known Canvey children’s entertainer called Paul Casper came and put on magic show with Punch & Judy and I remember cakes & jelly being served. We spent a few days and nights at Clifftown before being moved to Leigh on Sea where a family had offered to take us all in. The Collins family from Leigh gave us nearly all the space we needed with mum , dad and sister given a room and my brother and me also had a room. This meant some of the Collins family moving out so this could happen. They were a brilliant family and we did not want for anything.

There was more bad news for my brother and myself as our mother had enrolled us to the local school! We stayed at Leigh for I think, two to three months. My father went back to Canvey at weekends to try to clean up our house. For a couple of weeks after the floods we were given vouchers for meals at Garons of Southend. We would meet with a family who were friends of my parents. We must have looked a right motley crew all dressed in a variety of clothing that we had all been given.

It was a very difficult time for my parents when we returned home to Canvey as they had lost almost everything that they owned; we had no bedding, clothing and furniture. They were given a carpet by the Canadian Government, a cwt of coal but I don’t remember anything else. Canvey was now like a large building site with contractor’s machinery everywhere, building new sea walls. There was a coating of grey dust covering everything (I think this was the dried silty mud that had been washed in.) An Aunt of mine was married in what was to be the first wedding ceremony to take place on Canvey after the flood. So things were slowly getting back to normal, including us going back to school. But for years after I found it very difficult to get to sleep whenever that North wind was blowing.

Comments about this page

  • This is great Alan thank you for sharing your story with us.

    By Janet Penn (27/02/2013)
  • Very evocative, thank you for sharing these memories.

    By Mina Kupfermann (27/02/2013)
  • What a fantastic insight into how it really felt to be there….thanks so much !

    By Jacqueline Bowman (24/01/2023)

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