Royal Air Force Regiment at the Canvey Floods

Don "Barney" Balmforth's memories

1953: LAC. D.Balmforth (Barney) – “Hungry”

Here are a few photos of myself and fellow Royal Air Force Regiment bods taken on the wall at Canvey Island where we worked filling sandbags and then repairing the breached sea wall in 1953. I was a signaller and after the wall had been repaired we had to wait for high tide and report on any leaks etc. The Good Lord sent every known bit of bad weather down upon us. We came in Convoy from RAF Innsworth in Gloucester and I think the first night we were in accomodation somewhere in Purfleet, then we were moved to Warley Barracks at Brentwood and from there going out each morning to work on the wall. Have vague recollections of our Bedford 3 tonner coming across a muddy field bringing our hot container food and getting stuck and the army with a tracked bren gun carrier going to their assisstance and towing it out of the mire.

The reason for giving my nickname of Barney is someone may see this who may well remember me. Intend to come to Canvey Island now the nights are pulling out to try and find one road in particular where we were travelling on and approaching a main road. There were bungalows set back on our right and lower than the road and these were deep in flood water. Their is a story here and likewise a story of myself when I collapsed on the wall from cold and exposure.

The next two photos show high and low tides.

1953: High tide at Canvey – There are fuel tanks on the horizon, perhaps Coryton Oil Refinery?

1953: Low tide at Canvey Island – There looks to be a Jetty under construction

1953: German Newspaper Clipping

The newspaper cutting (right) I received from a friend who took it from a German magazine. It features Lord D`Isle and Dudlay seeing for himself the damage that was caused. I don’t know which service these folks were as the Army was also working on flood work too and as its an aerial photograph (bottom of page) one cannot make out any uniform, not that much of a uniform would be shown as with wellingtons, leather jerkin, etc, not a lot of uniform would have been seen. Obviously one chap on the wall was in a friendly mood waving with both arms in the air. Anyway another photo to the Canvey Island archives.

If memory serves me correctly I think it had to be single traffic on to the island over the bridge as top dogs did not want too much weight on it. So procedure was for the workers vehicles coming off in convoy to come off first and then the ones coming on to work, went on.

1953: “Some of the Lads”

In the photo above that I have described as “Some of the lads”, I can only put names to some of them and all these remembered by name are standing.
Naming from RIGHT to LEFT:
JOE BELLIS, originally from Shotton Colliery, Co. Durham, now living in the Midlands area.
JAMES (JOCK ) SIMPSON, originally from Aberdeen, now a naturalised American living in COVINA, California and, as he was my Air Force buddy, I keep in regular contact with him.
Sergeant THOMAS.
And last myself, Don (Barney ) Balmforth, originally from Thornhill in Yorkshire, now living near Ipswich in Suffolk.

I, D. Balmforth was 21 years old (having been deferred my National Service for a couple of years owing to learning a trade). Joe Bellis and Jock Simpson would be approaching their 20 years of age.

Thanks to Barney and his daughter for sending in these wonderful photos and memories. If you can remember Barney or anyone else involved, please leave a comment below.

Comments about this page

  • Was Don Barney an amature painter at all? I ask this because I purchased a portrait of an RAF pilot in an antique store in Fredericksburg, VA. I would like to know the identity of the pilot and the person who painted it. Thank you for your assistance. -Kyle Lee

    By Kyle Lee (18/06/2011)
  • Reply to Kyle Lee who asked was I an amateur painter. Sorry no, not a painter at all. Wish I could paint those pictures in my head of occurances at Canvey and throughout my later life. Some folk are blessed with a talent but painting was not one of mine. Best Wishes

    By Don Balmforth (17/02/2012)
  • Hi Don. as an ex Rock, i would like to know which squadron you were serving in ai the time?

    By Len Milledge (13/01/2013)
  • My dad “Jock” James Simpson is in the picture above. I so remember you Barney. I have been doing some genealogy and came across this article. I am excited to let my dad know about this. God Bless!

    By Linda Plouvier (03/10/2013)
  • Don Balmforth.   I am writing on behalf of my sister Yvonne nee MORRIS who was based on Canvey Island (RAF)when it flooded.  She was in the Radar department and remembers helping with filling sandbags.  I am trying to locate where I can get photographs as she has never had a photograph of herself in uniform.  Here health is pretty dire at the moment and so I want to help so that she can show her family that she once was in uniform.

    I hope you can help me, even in a little way, or point me in the right direction.

    Kind regards.     April.     Hampshire

    By APRIL CLARK (09/12/2016)
  • I am an ex Rockape and I well remember this although at the time I was only six years old. My father Bill Addison commanded the last Company of DUKWs based in Glasgow and was down their with his unit for the floods.

    By Tom Addison Sqn Ldr rtd (20/02/2023)
  • I was at RAF Canvey Island in 1953, aged 18, for a few days of air crew selection tests. Was not called on to help with flooding and finished up at RAF Lichfield ,6 ANS (air navigation school). Only flew in Lancasters.

    By Barry Slaney (18/01/2024)

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