PC Bill Pilgrim

One of the heroes of 1953

PC Bill Pilgrim joined the force in 1946 first based at Hornchurch before moving to Canvey. He lived with his family in one of the police houses which I believe were the houses near the police station. In an article in the policeman’s newspaper ‘The Law’ in 1998 his son, Bob talks a little about him.

“This picture was taken in Long Road, Canvey during the floods of 1953. It appeared on the front cover of the Daily Mail and can also be seen in the film which is shown to visitors at the Thames Barrier”.

Bob goes on to say “I was only 13 years old at the time of the great flood, but I remember it well, My father was the only PC on night duty and as a keen fisherman he often went up onto the sea wall to see the state of the tide. He did this on that night and was amazed to find the water only a couple of feet from the top of the wall with still about two hours before high water. There was no warning system then and the high tide had already caused chaos at Harwich.

On the night of the floods, 58 people died. My father told me that most people died from exposure rather than drowning, mainly elderly folk having woken up to find very cold water up to their mattress.  They managed to get onto the roof of their bungalows still in their nightclothes, and they just couldn’t survive the conditions.

Some years later, after I too had joined the force and dealt with my first major incident, I asked him how he coped on that night. He told me that he woke up a resident in each street and asked him to alert the rest of the road. The problem he found was getting residents to believe him – he was told to “clear off” on more than one occasion.”

Bill’s family were evacuated to Pitsea.

PC Bill left the Island in 1955, he retired in 1972 and died in 1980.

Comments about this page

  • Thanks, Jan, another clever piece of research. I remember P.C. Pilgrim well as a Canvey copper but have no immediate recall of his Sergeant or P.C colleagues of the time. Hopefully there might be somebody out there to jog my memory.

    By Graham Stevens (13/01/2013)
  • Great to read more detail about PC Bill Pilgrim, one of Canvey’s unsung heroes. Thanks Jan

    By Pat Smith (13/01/2013)
  • PC Pilgrim was correct in saying that most people died from exposure, these figures are quoted by US Coast Guards; Anyone who is immersed In water at a temperature of 0.4c has 15 to 35mins to live depending on there physic, swimming can lessen this tine by 35 to 50% once rescued wind chill is also a factor. Stages of Hypothermia Your body goes through these different stages as your temperature drops: 98-95 degrees You start to shiver and your skin is numb. 95-93 degrees You start to move slowly and feel weak and confused 93-90 degrees You fall over when you try to walk around, and have trouble using your hands. 90-86 degrees You can’t walk or stand and start talking in a confused way. You don’t make any sense. 86-82 degrees The pupils in your eyes get really big. 82-78 degrees and below Your heart stops. I noticed that the 4 people that died in my dinghy on the way back to our houseboat were shivering violently after a while that stopped, I would think that was stage 3.

    By Mike Brown (15/01/2013)
  • I remember PC Pilgrim and his son, also PC Mead. He used to call on us for breakfast or supper while on his beat such nice men with time to talk to everybody. One night PC Mead called to say they had had a call from a lady in ILFORD asking him to come round my house and find out why I had not returned to work that night as a Nanny, I got ready it was only my second week and I didnt tell Mum and Dad about my job, they thought this strange then when dad was due to take me back to Ilford I brokedown and told them why I didnt want to go back, when dad asked PC Mead in and he asked me why, Dad told him and PC MEAD said thats fine love you stay where you are I will phone the lady, I will deal with HER. Bless Him .

    By Margaret Day ne Wilson (31/01/2013)
  • The child in the arms of PC Bill Pilgrim was me! I had just turned 3 years old and we lived next door to the Police Station in Long Road. My sister Pamela who was 7 at the time walked behind with our mother. My father Eric stayed behind on the Island and helped with the rescue. Pamela and I attended the Canvey Library on Friday 1st February for the unveiling of the Memorial plaque and I was thrilled to meet PC Pilgrim’s son Bobby and his son – just by chance – in the street afterwards. My sister recognised his big smile from all those years ago on the Island when he used to come and play with Norman Brooks whom lived next door to us. I only wish I had had the forethought to try and meet PC Bill Pilgrim before he sadly passed away in 1972. We left the Island shortly after him, in 1956. He surely was instrumental in alerting residents very early on and must have saved many lives in doing so. All in the line of duty for him he would say but a true hero to the rest of us.

    By Judy Dolby (nee Taggart) (03/02/2013)
  • I remember Bill Pilgrim. He used to go fishing with my dad Len Warren.

    By Pauline Williams (nee Warren) (09/03/2013)
  • these comments are so lovely to read. PC Bill pilgrim is my great grandfather and Bobby/ PC bob pilgrim is my Grandfather.
    i never got to meet my great grandfather but i love how highly everyone speaks of him. Grandad used to talk about him to me all the time and would tell me the story of the flood.
    my grandad bob joined the police force and retired in 1992 but sadly passed away recently (26th December 2020) after a long battle with dementia. although grandad forgot all his prior memories and anything else he would still remember about my great grandfather. I’ve never seen these comments before and i could honestly cry with how proud i am of them both.
    id love to hear any stories or any memories you might have of either of them. if you would be okay to share any please email me them! i’d love to know them!

    By Ellie-beau Pilgrim (11/01/2021)
  • Sorry to hear about your grandfather Ellie I met him in 2011 when the Island had a new memorial and the archive had an exhibition at the library.
    I have a photo of him with his son somewhere on my computer. I will have to look for it.
    Judy the little girl your great grandfather is carrying in the photo also died a few years ago.

    By Janet Penn (11/01/2021)
  • I was a copper in the early 1970s when Bill Pilgrim returned to the Island after serving at a 1 man station, Braintree area. I became immediate friends with him and he would tell of his life during the war, when he was captured by the Japanese, and suffered horribly as a P. O. W. Bill would speak very humbly about his experiences but you could tell how he and his friends felt so lucky to survive. He was an old fashioned copper with a lovely old Essex accent and settled in at a new bungalow on the edge of The Paddocks Park. We used to visit him and his wife Rene quite often and was sorry to see him retire, he planned to keep his fishing hobby up but I think his war time experiences and illnesses wore him down. He was one of the loveliest guys I have ever known and worked with, he and his wife made me feel like one of his family. Lovely memories!
    Roy Burton, Essex Police, 1967 to 1977.

    By Roy Burton (25/08/2021)

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