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You are in: Suffolk » Don't Miss » 1953 East Coast Floods

31st January 2003
David Belton, Felixstowe
David Belton, Reg Hadwen and Leslie Bowdidge
Left to right: David Belton, Reg Hadwen (Felixstowe Fire Brigade), Leslie Bowdidge (Scout Leader) 1953.
All three were involved in the floods rescue work.
David Belton was 17-years-old at the time of the floods and he was a member of the 1st Felixstowe Sea Scouts.

This is his written account of that night:
FACTS

1953 EAST COAST FLOODS:

307 people drowned

24,000 homes flooded

1,200 breaches along 1,000 miles of coastline

160,000 acres of farmland flooded

46,000 livestock lost

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"Late in the evening prior to the water flooding the lower part of the town, along with fishermen and motor boat owners, we had been busy on the sea front hauling boats up from the beach onto the promenade.

"The tide was abnormally high and by nine thirty or so that evening, the sea water was actually running over the promenade into the road. I lived on Orwell Road near to St. John's Church and as I made my way home the gale force wind was causing the tiles to fall off the church roof at such a rate that it resembled a waterfall!

"The first I knew of the flooding was when very early the next morning a police constable came knocking on our front door with a message telling me to get down to the Ordnance Hotel as quickly as possible where I was to meet up with Rupert Bullock our Group Scoutmaster, who was also a local magistrate.

"The bottom of Garrison Lane, along side the Ordnance Hotel had become a beach. There was shingle all over the road and the water was lapping the newly formed shore. I was soon rowing up Langer Road towards the worst affected area. With others, I spent the day rowing back and forth ferrying people from their homes to the rescue centre that had been established in the Cavendish Hotel.

"We were later joined in our rescue work by a contingent of soldiers, many of who had never been in a boat before or were able to swim. Not the best qualifications for the job in hand and some doubt was cast on their ability to be of much help. However, these doubts were soon forgotten as, like every one else engaged in the rescue work, they got stuck in and did a splendid job.

"A search of the caravan site on Walton Avenue for possible survivors in the smashed up caravans was made all the more unpleasant by the presence of dead livestock. Cattle and pigs were scattered all around, looking as though they had been blown up like huge balloons. We did find our appetites had been affected, when on returning to the Cavendish Hotel, we were offered pork sandwiches to restore our energy!

"Quite late in the evening, a man came into the rescue centre concerned that he had not been able to find any trace of a relative and her daughter. They lived in one of the prefabs and had not been seen in the rescue centre.

"We set out in our rowing boat in the dark with just a tilley lamp to guide our way. We found the prefab, which had been washed some considerable distance from its foundations to be halted by a tree.

"Inside we found the young mother and her small child, who clearly had been making a futile and frantic effort to escape. Sadly, both had drowned in the appalling onslaught of the water. The terror of the ordeal they must have suffered is quite unimaginable.

"We spent a couple of more days helping people to find belongings and carrying out other tasks associated with the cleaning up process until we had to give up through sheer exhaustion. The work of clearing up was to go on for very much longer as considerable work had to be carried out to make homes habitable again.

"The enduring memory of those terrible days is of the amazing fortitude of the people involved and their ability to come to terms with the horror of what had happened.  Nowadays, those enduring any kind of trauma are given counselling. Back in 1953 there was no such thing available and people had to rely on the support of family and friends to be able to learn to get their lives back on track again.

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