As the water surged towards Norfolk, the people of King’s Lynn were already alarmed, though not by any official warning. The lack of that formal alert was to lead to controversy later.

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But the Great Ouse was already at the top of its banks, way before high tide.

When the water finally arrived in the town, it caused massive flooding, turning roads into rivers and leading to 15 deaths. One fifth of the town was under water. The water, predicted to reach 22ft 9in at Lynn Dockhead, peaked at 31ft.

The sea smashed ashore at Hunstanton and caused tremendous devastation in Heacham and Snettisham, where three sisters were among the dead.

Within moments, as the water engulfed homes without warning, sweeping them away or trapping people in the surge, more than 70 people lost their lives.

Soon after the 7.27pm train left Hunstanton for King’s Lynn it was halted by a wall of water and moments later a bungalow swept along by the water smashed into the smoke box.

The onslaught continued.

Sea Palling was crushed, Salthouse wrecked and Brancaster, Cley, Wells, Blakeney, Mundesley, Bacton, Walcot, Overstrand, Sheringham, Cromer and Yarmouth, wallowed under feet of mud and water, their seafronts smashed and homes destroyed. Many coast roads were rendered impassable.

The speed and ferocity of the surge left little time to escape and within minutes had created a huge inland sea.

In Cley, families barricaded themselves in their homes and were forced upstairs as the water rose. The unfortunate Gordon Lee, a 19-year-old who went to release his pigs on his allotment as the water struck, found himself marooned. He spent three hours clinging to the roof of his allotment shed as attempts to reach him by boat failed. He was later rescued by a group of soldiers. The animals, like thousands of others that night, perished.

In Mundesley, witnesses spoke of waves rising 80ft in the air, sweeping buildings over the promenade.

A crewless tanker, which had broken its tow in the North Sea, ran aground at Brancaster, one of 22 ships in the North Sea reported as missing, stranded or in danger.

At Salthouse, 30 houses were destroyed in half an hour. The emergency services were inundated with calls and police, ambulance and fire crews joined in the massive rescue operation.

The devastation swept down to Yarmouth and then to Lowestoft, which despite being split in two by the waters, suffered no immediate deaths.

At Southwold, five died as the water ravaged homes and sea defences.

The devastation was repeated further south on the Essex coast and across into Kent.

In Holland, the flooding was even more serious than in Britain. It is estimated that 1800 people lost their lives.

As the storm raged, people clung to their roofs and hung on to whatever they could in the pitch darkness as the icy water swelled around them. The water was deep, the sky dark and unfriendly, power had failed and there was little hope as the deathly cold water rose.

Long before daylight brought the full extent of the disaster into clearer focus, a rescue operation began amid a landscape where homes had been washed away, streets in villages and towns were flooded and many were dead, or missing.

Among the rescuers were local emergency- service personnel who were joined by American servicemen. As dawn broke, a list of the dead was already being compiled. At the same time another list was being written, with the names of heroes upon it.

American Airman 3rd Class Reis Leming, a 22-year-old non-swimmer with the 67th Air Rescue Squadron at Sculthorpe, became the first foreigner to receive the George Medal when he single-handedly saved 27 people after making three trips into the shattered beach- home area of Hunstanton in a rubber dinghy.

For their efforts that night, four others received George Medals. Among them was another American, two Lincolnshire policemen and Leading Fireman Frederick Sadd, of the Yarmouth Brigade.

He knew nothing about the flood when he took his crew out to a night-time call that led him to help save 27 people at Bells Marsh Road, Gorleston.

For several hours he was up to his neck in icy water, wading or swimming to reassure people marooned in their houses, carrying some of them to safety on his back and pushing a boat out to them in the flood waters.

One grateful householder said at the time: “If it had not been for a man swimming round and finding us and leading the boat, we would have been drowned.

“I don’t know who he was but he deserves the highest praise.”

There was much improvisation too. When the police headquarters in King’s Lynn was deluged, Chief Superintendent Fred Calvert switched his communications centre to a butcher’s shop.

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