1953 East Anglian Floods

60 years ago on 31st January a combination of forceful winds, atmospheric pressure and high tides created a storm surge that was to devastate local communities. Flooding along the east coast claimed many lives and destroyed property.

This month will see services held throughout the region, in remembrance to those who lost their lives during the 1953 floods. Also honoured will be those that took part in the rescue operations.

The terrible floods in 1953 across East Anglia and the east coast, led to a large number of homes being destroyed. Families lost loved ones as the sea surged through towns and villages. The surge occurred during the Saturday evening and Sunday morning, with times at which it struck varying across the county. Many people climbed onto the rooftops awaiting rescue, others were drowned in their beds or swept away with their houses.

RAF Marham personnel were called upon, along with the emergency services to assist with the rescue and clear up operation. Below is a personal account from a young man (Chris Mackie) serving at RAF Marham at the time.

I have two memorable experiences of the floods. The first was on the evening of 31st January, the other during the aftermath.

31st January 1953, King’s Lynn
As a single man, stationed at RAF Marham, I decided to take a bus into Lynn to go to a dance at the Corn Exchange on the Tuesday Market Place. I wasn’t a very good dancer but nevertheless found a courageous Lynn girl and we danced to the little band quite happily, chattering away, until we suddenly realised we were the only two left on the dance floor. There seemed to be some commotion at the entrance, with people putting on their coats and leaving.

When we went to see what was going on, we discovered that the river was flooding. Water was pouring past both sides of the Corn Exchange and gradually spreading across the Market Place. The only way we could get away was by crossing the torrent to the steps of the next building (the old bank) and then to the corner of the Market Place, where it was still dry.

Most of the people had already got away, but now the water was deep; so I took off my shoes and socks, rolled up my trousers and said to my dancing companion, ‘I’ll carry you.’ It was horrific. The water was ice cold and I nearly cried with the pain. As soon as I put the girl down I told her, rather ungallantly, she’d better go home. It was difficult to get my socks back onto my wet and freezing feet.

I decided I’d better get back to camp, but found the Millfleet was also flooded – buses used to go from there before the new bus station was built.

The Ouse Bank
Personnel from RAF Marham, including me, were sent to help in repairing a breach of the River Ouse upstream. A barge was moored on one side of the river and we had to fill sandbags with soil and load them onto the barge, walking along wet and muddy planks. It was a wonder there were no accidents. When the tide was low the water receded from the fields and the barge was positioned near the gap in the bank and the sand bags thrown into the breach.

We worked in two shifts, aircrew in the daytime and we ground crew in the evening. It was miserable work in the bitter cold and blinding sleet. How ever, we had a laugh at the clever aircrew lads, who managed to let the barge float through the gap and wedge itself in the flooded field. They had a fine time recovering it. This went on for several days.

A NAAFI van was on site selling refreshments but no one bought anything as there was also a WVS van giving out food and drinks for free. Apparently the NAAFI manager complained to the CO that we didn’t patronise the NAAFI. I wonder why!

At the end of our stint we returned to RAF MArham, had a meal and, unusual for the RAF, were given a tot of grog (rum, thick as treacle).

As part of the anniversary – True’s Yard Museum, in King’s Lynn will display historic pictures of the 1953 Floods for the public to view.

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