Leslie's memories of the floods
Gertrude Williams of Whernside Avenue
Leslie Williams was the son of Gertrude Williams of Whernside Avenue who died in the floods.
We were woken up during the night of January 31/February 1st by Air-Raid Siren and/or Maroons (normally used for calling out Volunteer Fireman). But at early daylight Mr Rutherford, who lived behind us, said that Newlands was flooded and people were drowned.
As there was no water in Urmond Road yet, we were not too concerned until we saw water creeping up from Waarden Road direction. Since the road level was at least 18″ below site of 31 Urmond Road, the water eventually only reached to front step of the house and into the garden shed.
Early in the morning Peter and I set out along Urmond to try to get to Mum and my sisters, who all lived inside the Newlands area.
By climbing along fences etc. on the high grass verge we got as far as the dip in the road at the end of Vaagen Road in Waarden Road, but could get no further owing to the depth of the water. We were up to our waists in ice cold water and still not at the deepest part.
We made our way back, dried off and changed into dry clothes and set off again by climbing over the rear fence to Paarl Road and along Fairlop Avenue where the water was barely half inch deep and littered with dead worms.
Along Long Road to the ‘Haystack’ pub and up the High Street to Mitchells Avenue was easy with little or no water.
There were lots of Police, Firemen and Ambulances, etc. about at that area and I was informed that the situation was desperate on Newlands.
So, I thought I would leave Peter (only 13-14 years) and try to get to Mum. I went down Mitchells Avenue to where the internal sea walls join and all |I could see was a vast sea of water, broken only by the various bungalows and outbuildings in Newlands.
My sister Lily’s bungalow was the first I could see, but I don’t remember getting any response from my shouts, but as it transpired the family were in the roof, wet, cold and frightened, but safe. I don’t think I ever knew how they were got out.
So, I set out along the internal sea wall and after a few minutes came across a small dinghy, which I pulled out of the water and started to drag along. I hadn’t got far when someone lifted the back of the boat to help me, and to my surprise it was Edna’s
Jack, who had been on night work at Shell Haven.
When we got to Edna’s bungalow we made contact by shouting. They were in the roof also and seemed safe.
Jack let me have the boat (only a single seater) as Mum’s bungalow was way-out of shouting range.
By then, some of the bushes and fence posts were near the water surface and having no oars I was able to pull myself along Whernside to Mum’s front gate.
Since the boat was so tiny I was able to force it between the high gate posts and over the verandah and in the front French-doors, which were burst open.
The woman opposite was screaming for help, but at least she was able to.
In Mum’s bungalow the kitchen table was floating and poor Mum was floating, face down, in her living room. She had her over-coat on and I concluded she had been overwhelmed when the French-doors burst open.
I could hear the cat (or was it the dog? I can’t remember clearly) in one of the bedrooms.
By this time I had no strength to do more and was worried about my ability to get back.
I did notice, while I was there, that the water level was about 4ft deep in the bungalow but the water level mark was at picture rail level.
When I got back to the wall, I told Jack about Mum and left him the boat and went back and reported my facts to a policeman and Peter and I went home.
Later in the day we locked up the house. Buses were picking up from the ‘Haystack’ pub, going to Benfleet Station, where we caught a train and went to Auntie Flo’s in Kentish Town.
The following weeks were confusing. The Firm gave me unlimited time off and sent us extra money.
I spent a lot of time locating my evacuated sisters. I also had to make statements to the Police, identify Mum at Rochford and attend the inquest.
There were endless details, funeral, solicitors, insurance, the will, disposal of bungalow and salvaging what I could of Mum’s possessions.
After 30 years the memory get a little vague on some points, but Peter and official records would fill in a lot of missing facts.
Mum was buried at Cemetry Corner, Benfleet. (Gertrude Emily Williams)
Grateful thanks to Val Toop for passing this story to us.