SURVIVORS of the devastating 1953 floods recounted poignant and vivid stories at an emotional service to commemorate the five people who died in Southwold.

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The 60th anniversary service, held at the town’s St Edmund Church, remembered the five people in low-lying Ferry Road who lost their lives in what is still regarded as the UK’s worst peacetime disaster.

Sixty years ago yesterday, the floods brought death and chaos to the east coast as sea water surged over coastal defences and swept two miles inland. Across Suffolk, 46 people died from drowning or exposure.

Speaking before the service, John Winter, 79, a former fisherman and harbourmaster, who still lives in Southwold, said the floods turned the town into island as the waters surged across marshland.

Those who lost their lives were three elderly women and a mother and child who lived in a prefab.

“It seems that the mother – I think her name was Mrs Ballard – put her baby boy in a cradle on a table while she went outside to let some horses through a gate so they could escape. She never came back and she and the child drowned,” he said.

Mr Winter said he was in Southwold Cinema on the fateful night. “A friend of mine, Johnny Stannard, came into the cinema and told us something was up. I lived near the Lord Nelson pub close to the cliff edge in those days and as we went towards the cliff we could see the white lines of surf coming towards us as if they were at the same level.

“The beach huts were being destroyed like matchboxes in a bath. I had a shed in Ferry Road – it was a heap of matchwood when I got there.

“There was a policeman down there and he needed help to rescue a man from a bungalow.

“Spud James, the milkman, called at the property every day and said the path to the bungalow was on higher land and he led the way. But we never found the path. We started out waist deep in water and ended up neck deep!”

The policeman got the occupant of the property out through a kitchen window and another life was saved.

About 100 people attended the memorial service in Southwold on Wednesday evening, where survivors gave moving speeches and candles were lit in memory of the victims.

Southwold town councillor Susan Doy told how a weekly dance was moved from Southwold pier on the night of the flood, saving lives.

Afterwards, Southwold mayor Michael Ladd said: “It was an emotional service with poignant stories told. It is important to look back on history like this.”

● The 60th anniversary of the 1953 floods will be marked at Christ Church in Lowestoft on Sunday (Fbruary 3). A service is being held at the church at 3pm, when local historian John Holmes will be showing slides and giving a talk. Chris Brooks, chairman of the Jack Rose Old Lowestoft Society, has been invited to show slides in the church hall during refreshments after the service.

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