The Floods of 1953: Relief mission to help needy

Damage caused by the 1953 floods

Damage caused by the 1953 floods - Credit: Archant

In the areas worst hit by the 1953 floods, homes were not only left waterlogged by the torrent of seawater. In many instances they were destroyed totally.

Damage to a house caused by the 1953 floods

Damage to a house caused by the 1953 floods - Credit: Archant

In places such as Sea Palling, nothing remained of one row of houses and others were left permanently uninhabitable. That was a story repeated along huge tracts of the east coast of England.

For those a little more fortunate, the homes they fled at the height of the storm in the darkness of January 31, 1953, remained standing but would take weeks to dry out, with flood water having deluged the lower levels.

Mud and sand were caked around their prized possessions and walls were sodden for months afterwards.

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Workers, many of them drafted in from the armed forces, struggled day and night filling sandbags and endeavouring to seal breaches in sea defences to prevent further flood damage.

A Flood Relief Fund was started to help those devastated by the floods and within a fortnight it had topped £300,000. Others contributed what they could – American airmen from Lakenheath donated clothing, bedding and equipment.

But the cost of the damage, at 1953 prices, was already running at £50m.

Figures show that 24,000 homes were flooded (5000 in Norfolk) and 32,000 people had to leave homes along the east coast.

Thousands of farm animals were dead and missing and 160,000 acres of farmland were flooded with salt water and rendered useless for many years.

Yet against this backdrop, an army of volunteers from the Red Cross, WRVS and other charities joined the emergency services and military personnel to aid those worst affected by the floods.

Those left homeless were taken to village halls and then made arrangements to stay with friends or relatives.

For some, weeks passed before they could return to their homes, which were forever scarred by the effects of the flood water. Others never returned. Many essential services were disrupted and one of the tasks assigned to the fire brigade was to make supplies of drinking water available to people who were cut off. Norfolk Fire Brigade, for example, received a request to provide Hunstanton with 20 500-gallon drums of drinking water.

Food flying squads were also created to deliver rations to those with nothing to eat.

Flood Fund payouts were made for a variety of causes and farmers were among those compensated over the months that followed. But there were a number of smaller, often quite unusual, payouts to those affected, as Derek Edwards recalled.

Mr Edwards, from East Dereham, lived in Wells at the time. As a six-year-old he remembers playing fields were inundated and a number of cottages along Burnt Street, backing on to the playing field, had their seaward walls demolished and furniture was sliding off the sagging floors into the flood waters.

He recalls: 'Flood Relief payments were made to local folk and I remember father being given a new 'Hercules' cycle from the fund, to replace that which he had lost from Hewitt's Bakehouse, on Burnt Street, where he had worked since being demobilised in 1946.

'That cycle lasted him for years.'

But others, some who lost everything and were uninsured against such an 'act of God,' received little or nothing at all and were left to rebuild their lives as best they could..