Canvey Island......Flood memories.

Early morning....Feb. 1st 1953

Following a very traumatic night, that had included being followed home to Marine Approach by the tidal wave that was sweeping across the Island, I watched my parents and sister climb aboard one of the amphibian type craft, (Army Evacuation Vehicle) to be transported to the Mainland.

I do not remember exactly why I had chosen to stay on the Island, but as I worked for the North Thames Gas Board as an apprentice gas fitter, I probably felt that I should make my way down Furtherwick to the Gas Co. yard; just to see what my fellow employees and I could do to help under the circumstances.

After riding my bicycle whenever possible, and wading through water for most of the way, I arrived at the Yard to find that a few of my buddies had also made it there. I believe that Mr. Clare, the Manager, said that a normal workday would of course be impossible. He suggested that we “pair up”, go out into the different areas to render whatever assistance possible and at the same time, make note of any problems to do with the underground gas system, (leakage or broken lines etc.)

I was teamed up with the other apprentice Vic Hills, we set out to Lakeside Corner and then East towards Chamberlain Ave. where I had been visiting the night before. On reaching Larup Avenue, we came upon a Red Cross vehicle where members were distributing tea, food and clothing, to residents who had been rescued from their homes located along the deeply flooded roads in that area.

Vic and I soon spotted a rowboat that was not being used; we quickly jumped in and set off. We had been told that there were people trapped in their houses, especially in the Rainbow Road area, but mostly along the roads north of the High Street.

During our boat trip, we took turns at rowing and calling aloud to see if anyone required rescue. We saw many dreadful scenes, including one deceased person (on a rooftop, most likely from hypothermia) and another person, caught up in a tree and probably drowned. As the Police were dealing with those situations, we continued on, there was an eerie silence and our voices echoed, as we called out, in an effort to contact survivors needing to be evacuated.

It was while rowing along one of the deeply flooded roads, that we heard a small cry coming from one of the houses. Seeing that the window of a bungalow was broken, we manoeuvred our dinghy over to the window.  On looking inside, we saw a lady sitting on her bed, which had floated up as the water had risen. There was a strong smell of gas and we felt that the gas line beside the house was probably damaged. The lady was very glad to see us; we could only imagine the frightening night that she must have endured. Vic then told me, “the nine stone weakling,” to, “hang on to the window and steady the boat”, while he tore off the window frame and somehow got into the flooded room. I watched him make his way over to the bed where he promptly picked the lady up and came back to where I now had to steady the boat while he lowered her into it. After a lot of rocking and near capsize, we had our survivor on board and started back along the roads to where the Red Cross were still doing their much-needed work.  I wish that I could remember our passenger’s name, but 50 years have erased that and many other events and experiences connected with the period immediately following the floods.

I do, however, remember being back at that lady’s home some weeks after the floods on Gas Co. business. We talked about her rescue and how fortunate we were to have heard her cries for help.

Following the initial flood and attempts at evacuation and rescue, I spent the next several days working with many others, in the effort to dig huge channels in the sea wall, in an attempt to drain our beloved Island, which then had to be reclaimed and protected by the new “all steel” sea wall.

All of this had occurred just eight years after the frightening events of W.W.2 on Canvey Island, which became known as part of  “Doodlebug Alley”.

Comments about this page

  • This is a fantastic account. Many thanks Gerry

    By Janet Penn (17/01/2012)
  • Hi Gerry, can you tell me the name of the road where you rescued the lady and about what time it was please. Mike Brown

    By Mike Brown (18/01/2012)
  • Sorry, I can’t remember the street name Mike but I think it ran paralell to the High St. It must have been sometime between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. as we had been at the Yard Office at about 8 a.m.and went from there.

    By Gerald Hudson (18/01/2012)
  • Hi Gerry, Thanks so very much for putting this very clear account of your and Vic’s brave action on that fateful morning onto the Archive.

    By Graham Stevens (18/01/2012)
  • We lost our home on that awful night,and huddled up against a nieghbours chimney stack till 1pm the following afternoon,when we was asked by a police boat, would we like a lift! so much more to tell.

    (ed)Someone will contact you Brian

    By Brian Winter (07/01/2013)
  • Hi Jerry, Coming up to the 60th Anniversary of that horrendous night and what followed brings it all back to us, I know it changed me I became angry and aggressive, I can remember as if it were yesterday when I finally returned to the sea wall at daybreak my father was waiting for me as he was concerned for my safety.

    There were 4 bodies lying on the wall that I had picked up that night, they were alive when I got them into the dingy but died of exposure before I could get back, I had to row facing the bow pushing on the oars not pulling to see my way in the dark and avoid all the floating debris which made slower progress. I said to my Father this should not have happened, we both knew that something was going to happen when the morning tide did not reach our houseboat and started to flow again at 4 o’clock with over 8 hours to high tide, Essex River Authority phoned Councillor Leach at 11.50 pm warning of an abnormal tide, by then the sea wall had already been breached and Jaywick had already been flooded.

    Actually it was Joe Wyatt and I who bought the woman’s body back to the sea wall, there were no signs of police or outside help at Newlands until after midday, but the press managed to get there, one photographer was taking pictures of the womans body in her nightdress lying face down on the sea wall he was trying to get a picture of her face, I ran along our gangway grabbed him and punched in the face, he fell to floor and dropped his camera and I threw it in the water, I must have hit him hard I dislocated two knuckles on my right hand, more press approached me I picked up an oar from dingy and said best you all go unless you want help with recovery, they left, I felt better after that. Like all disasters if only!

    For me it was good thing that I was called up for National Service 2 months later and was able to focus my aggression the right way.

    Now is not the time for Recrimination but Remembrance for all those that perished and the loved ones left behind. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Janet and all those connected with running CCA website without them peoples memories of the flood would not be known.

    By Mike Brown (07/01/2013)
  • Hi Mike: Yes, the 60th anniversary of the flood is coming up. As I read your comment I could feel the trauma that you went through that awfu night. I too, will be thinking about those folks who perished and their survivors. It was a dreadful event that we can never forget and I share your appreciation of our great Archival Web Site and all those responsible for same. Gerald hudson

    By Gerald Hudson (07/01/2013)
  • Hi Gerry, Did you by chance rescue 2 little girls from Goirle Ave,(just off Larup, next to Rainbow)? If so, many thanks. There was also a little old lady named Miss Palmer who lived just down the road to us in Goirle, who was alone in her bungalow, could that have been the lady you were thinking of?

    By Sandra Curtis (02/02/2013)
  • Hi Sandra: Vic and I were rowing up and down in that very area and for quite a long time that day. I know that we started out at Larup and the High Street and would have definately touched some of the roads you mention. Of course,I do remember us rescuing an old lady as mentioned in my story, but can’t recall the two girls. It’s 60 years ago and the street names and other rescues escape me now. One thing I do know for sure, is that Vic and I were both wearing our “North Thames Gas Board” caps. Thanks for your comment

    By Gerald Hudson (03/02/2013)

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