Dominic Bareham, senior reporter
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
The days after January 31, 1953 will live forever in the memory of Norfolk man Bert Patrick, who was a police officer when a devastating tidal surge flooded eastern coastal counties of England with water 20ft high.
The 84-year-old, who lives in Walcot Green, Diss with his wife Sombra, 83, remembers vividly the call he received from PC Roland Chipperfield at Southwold while he was stationed nine miles away at Halesworth.
That day, Mr Patrick and his wife had been attending the wedding in Halesworth of Mr Patrick’s best man and police colleague, Chief Insp Eric Hunt, who was based in Mildenhall, but the joy of the wedding soon subsided with the news of the unfolding flood tragedy, triggered by a severe windstorm over the North Sea.
“As we were walking home from the wedding gale force winds were blowing and tiles were coming off the roofs in Halesworth. I went back on duty at 7.30pm and took the call from PC Chipperfield.
“He said ‘Southwold has become an island. The sea has broken through at Easton Bavents,’” he said.
He was then sent out by his inspector William Bird with PC Leslie Plummer to clear trees which had fallen across the A12 at Darsham in high winds, before the pair set off by Land Rover to help the rescue effort in Southwold.
En route, they stopped off in Blythburgh where they encountered villagers sitting on their bedroom window sills helpless as a flood tide 20ft high swamped their homes and prevented traffic from coming through the village from the Beccles end of the A12.
Father-of-three Mr Patrick, who originally comes from Quidenham, said there was nothing that could be done to help the stricken villagers so the police officers made their way to Walberswick where they encountered rats running up the road towards them to escape the flood tide.
The following morning they arrived in Southwold in a truck and trailer with water so high it was coming over the top of the trailer, to be greeted by a scene of devastation, especially in Ferry Road which was one of the worst affected by water.
Many of the pre-fabricated homes in Ferry Road had been washed away, while the town’s golf club had been severely flooded.
However, perhaps the most poignant discovery by Mr Patrick was a baby boy who had died in his cot at one of the pre-fabricated homes in Ferry Road after a wall had collapsed on him, while his mother had also drowned in the flood tide.
The rescue effort in Southwold involved well over 100 people as the emergency services were joined by American servicemen from RAF Bentwaters and soldiers from the army’s Essex regiment who were based at Colchester.
The team carried out a search to try and locate five people who were reported missing, including the baby boy, four of whom were eventually found dead while one person remained missing.
Mr Patrick said: “There was another PC with me and we were devastated at the death of the baby, though thankful that we had found his body.”
The rescuers were in Southwold for two weeks clearing up after the flood, which killed 307 people in England where it hit Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex and 19 in Scotland.
A series of remembrance events were held across the eastern counties last week to mark the 60th anniversary of the flood.
Mr Patrick and his wife have three children- Alyson Spinks, 56, Ann Arnold, 53 and Jill Tebble, 44- as well as four grandchildren and a great grandchild.