England

Great Flood of 1953: 60th anniversary events held

A woman is carried along a flooded street in the Wansbeck road area in King's Lynn in 1953
Image caption A woman is carried along a flooded street in the Wisbech road area in King's Lynn in 1953

Survivors and relatives of those killed in one of the UK's worst natural disasters paused to remember the floods of 1953.

Sixty years ago the North Sea battered the east coast of England, surging two miles inland.

It was caused by a high spring tide, low pressure and exceptionally strong northerly gales.

The surge cost 307 lives in English coastal towns and villages. Many more died on the continent and at sea.

The Princess Royal attended a service at Chelmsford Cathedral to mark the anniversary, where she was introduced to guests connected with the Great Flood.

The service brought together survivors from Essex and further afield, including representatives from the Netherlands where 1,800 people were killed.

During the service, the horror on Canvey Island was re-enacted by children from a theatre workshop and three candles representing the lives lost in Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium were lit.

Smaller acts of remembrance took place across Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.

'Tragic and terrible'

Shirley Orchard was 16 and living on Canvey Island with her father, mother and nine-year-old sister. She has a vivid memory of the disaster.

Image caption The Princess Royal attended a service at Chelmsford Cathedral

She said: "We lived across a road which ended in Small Gains Creek where a lot of people lived in houseboats and we could hear them all screaming. We were lucky to have an upstairs room and were high enough to be above the water.

"My father had a general store and I worked there with him. It was the worst hit shop on the island as the water went in one end and out the other and damaged a lot of the stock.

"I did have a cry when I heard the story about the baby found floating in her pram.

"The mother and father, as well as being friends of mine, were also customers in the shop.

"The last person I served that day was the mother of the baby and it was very sad as they had tried for seven years for a baby.

"They were both found dead sitting huddled up together just below from where they had left the baby.

"I remember we were taken off the island by army truck in the middle of the night."

Hero of the hour

In Hunstanton, Norfolk, a smaller event was held to honour the late Reis Leming, the first non-Briton to win the George Medal for bravery in peacetime.

The American airman, who died in November aged 81, became the hero of the hour when the floods struck by single-handedly rescuing 27 people, despite not being able to swim.

His widow, Kathy Leming, travelled to the town from Oregon in the US along with his daughter, Debra and son, Michael, who wore his father's flying jacket.

Mrs Leming said: "It's just amazing to me that this community values him so much.

"To me he was just the normal man I lived with for 40 years. But I come here and I see his name everywhere and it is really touching."

A bus was named in his honour before a procession along the town's seafront and an unveiling of a new Reis Leming Way street sign by his family.

About 24,000 homes were damaged and more than 30,000 people moved to safety during the floods, which affected 1,000 miles of British coast.

More than 177 were lost at sea in fishing boats and more than 130 on the ferry Princess Victoria, which was sailing between Scotland and Ireland when it sank.

More on this story

Around the BBC