More stories of bravery and tragedy during the 1953 floods emerge

11:57 02 February 2013

Susan Nichols

Susan Nichols's dad, Alan Turrell, lived in Cobholm during the 1953 floods. He died five years ago, but she was recently clearing his garage and came across an unopened coffee tin inscribed "a gift from His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Ethiopia to Her Majesty the Queen - East Coast Floods 31st January 1953." PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Archant Norfolk

For many, the floodwaters of 1953 will never completely recede, writes Rowan Mantell

Jill Wright will never forget the floods of 1953.

She was just seven years old, and lost her schoolfriend, Merle, in the disaster.

Her mother was the local church organist and had the heartrending task of playing for the funerals of all the Sea Palling victims.

“She always said how very difficult she found this,” said Jill, who now lives in Woodbridge.

“On the Sunday morning of the 1st February I remember standing looking out of our landing window where instead of a view of sand dunes was the sea that had reached half way across the field opposite my house,” she said.

“A line of elderly people walked past our house from an old people’s home that had been flooded. They, I believe we’re heading towards the sanctuary of the village hall.”

There was no sanctuary for Merle.

Her mother ran a seaside café and when the sea tore through the dunes it drowned Doris and both her children.

“School seemed very strange,” said Jill. “I can remember clearly Merle, who I had sat beside in class. She was a slim lively girl and we had acted together in the school play the previous Christmas.

“People from across the country sent gifts of toys and sweets. The toys were kept in school but sugar paper bags of sweets were a real treat as we still had rationing.”

Jill’s father, Norman Cripps was a surveyor and public health inspector and she said:

“My father was heavily involved with the aftermath of the flood and I remember sitting on the stairs listening to the 6 o’clock news on the radio when he was interviewed for a flood news update.

“I remember the devastation and destruction that the power of the sea wrought on those buildings and how after that the face of Sea Palling changed. The concrete sea defences although necessary gave a hard man-made appearance to the natural lines of the beach.”

“I moved to Sutton the summer after the flood. I missed Sea Palling a great deal, the school, my friends, and playing on the beach in particular.

“I have come back over the years, and brought my own family camping at Waxham, so they could enjoy the wonderful beaches as I did as a child.

“My sister still lives in Hickling and on the 50th anniversary on the way to see her, my husband and I just went to stand on the beach and remember that night.”

An unopened coffee jar, the gift of the Emperor of Ethiopia, is a fascinating memento of the 1953 floods for Susan Nichols of Blofield.

She discovered the tin, labelled “A gift from His Imperial

Majesty the Emperor of Ethiopia to Her Majesty the Queen - East Coast Floods 31st January 1953,” in the garage of her father’s Gorleston home.

Alan Turrell had many stories of the floods, before his death five years ago, but had never mentioned the coffee.

“He grew up in Cobholm, where his parents ran the Cobholm Tavern,” said Susan. “In 1953 he was living with his widowed mother, still in Cobholm. He used to tell us about the stray dog he rescued from the floods. It remained a family pet for many years.”

The gift, from Ethiopia to Britain, in a reversal of more recent food aid, is now a major talking point in Susan’s house. “It’s proof that international help for disasters

was around 60 years ago,” she said. “You can still hear the powder if you shake the tin. You could probably still make a cup of coffee with it. My father was quite good at keeping things, and this must have moved with him several times. I glad he kept it!” she said.

To see previous stories from our week of specials looking back on the 1953 floods log on to


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