Reis Leming, aged 22.

Photo Gallery: Hunstanton remembers the great flood of 1953

Thursday, January 31, 2013
5.12 PM

Family of flood rescue hero Reis Leming fly from America to take part in memorial which included the unveiling of a bus named after him

Reis Leming

Mr Leming was just 22, and stationed at RAF Sculthorpe, when he waded into the icy flood water, towing a rubber dinghy. An action made all the more remarkable because he could not swim.

Within an hour of the tidal wave striking, American serviceman had arrived to offer help.

The first house Mr Leming, who was 6ft 3ins tall, waded out to was in ruins, its occupants dead. Afterwards he admitted to being “scared to death” but had pressed on regardless.

Further down the street he found a huddle of people on the roof of house. He helped them into the raft, pulled them to higher, drier ground, and turned once more into the water.

For hours he waded back and forth, plucking a total of 27 people from the water until eventually he collapsed.

He became the first non-Briton ever to receive the George Medal and was also awarded the Soldiers Medal - America’s highest honour to any serviceman for heroic action outside of conflict.

A howling wind today greeted the family of a man who is known to one West Norfolk town as a hero.

A crowd gathered at a memorial on Hunstanton seafront to remember the 31 people who died on the night of the great storm. They also remembered Reis Leming, the American serviceman who saved 27 lives.

His wife Kathy and two children, Michael and Debra, were guests of the town and visibly moved by the event which included the unveiling of a bus named after Mr Leming specially liveried with pictures from the floods.

The images, including one of Mr Leming, who died in November, were taken from the EDP archives.

The Norfolk Green bus also featured a tide mark indicator on the top deck, which showed the depth of the waters on the night Mr Leming waded through the waves with a dinghy to rescue people.

“We are so moved and have got through a lot of tissues today,” said his daughter.

“Dad never really never talked a lot about what he did, but when we came over ten years ago he was treated like a hero by everyone here. It was so touching and I know he wanted to come back.”

His son Michael proudly wore a flying jacket which was specially made for his father and would have been presented to him last November when he was due to return to Hunstanton where a path has been named in his honour.

Sadly he died just days before the trip aged 81, and the jacket was given to Michael.

Mrs Leming said she was deeply moved by the esteem in which her husband was held by the people of Hunstanton.

The City of Norwich Pipe Band paraded along the sea front prior to the service and Mr Leming’s family followed in an American 1941 Plymouth car.

Members of the American air force’s 67th Special Operations Squadron from RAF Mildenhall were also on parade during the service.

The squadron was previously 67th Air Rescue and had been based at Sculthorpe when Mr Leming served.

Lt Col Shelley Rodriguez said the unit was honoured to be taking part in the event, as it had done in November to mark the path naming.

“It is humbling to see how people remember and we are honoured to be here today to mark the anniversary,” she said.

Members of the US airforce based at Sculthorpe were living in Hunstanton at the time of the flood and 16 Americans died.

During the service at the memorial, the names of all 31 victims were read out by town councillor John Maiden and Lt Col Rodrigiuez.

Prayers were led by Fr John Bloomfield who also took a service at St Edmund’s church.