Hero of the 1953 Norfolk floods dies, but will not be forgotten

A hero who saved more than 20 lives when the 1953 floods ravaged the Norfolk coastline has died at his home in America, aged 81.

But his memory will live on this weekend, as US servicemen and women march through Hunstanton, before a footpath is named after him.

Reis Leming waded into the icy water towing a rubber dinghy, after the angry waters broke through the sea defences south of Hunstanton, smashing homes to matchwood, on the stormy night of January 31.

Before he passed out from the cold and shock, he plucked 27 people from the waters that swirled around South Beach Road.

Mr Leming was looking forward to returning to Hunstanton on Saturday, for a parade to mark the 60th anniversary of the US Air Force's 67th Air Rescue Squadron.

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But he passed away on Monday at his home in America, after suffering a broken hip in a fall.

RAF Flt Sgt Mark Service, who has spent months organising the event, said the parade would go ahead as planned.

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'We wanted to get Reis across so he could see the esteem he is held in,' he said. 'He'll never be forgotten in the UK.

'Although it's the 60th anniversary of the 67th, the whole focus is a direct result of what Reis did on that night and although it's obviously disappointing he can't be there, we hope we can do him proud and show him the proper respect a hero deserves.'

He added that Mr Leming did not know that the path was going to be named after him, as this was intended to be a secret until Saturday.

Former West Norfolk Mayor Mike Tilbury, who met Mr Leming when he returned to Hunstanton in 1993, said: 'I just thought he was a totally unassuming person. He came to Hunstanton the year I was mayor. There was no affectation to him or anything, he just seemed a very down-to-earth, pleasant person.'

Saturday's parade will be led by members of the City of Norwich Pipe Band and include a Colour Party and an honour guard from the 67th squadron.

They will set off from South Beach Road – where Mr Leming's heroic rescues took place – at 10.20am, contiunuing along the Promenade towards the Green and the Esplanade Gardens.

As part of the celebration a sign will be unveiled naming the footpath through the gardens Reis Leming Way.

It was also intended that Mr Leming would become an honorary member of the 67th Squadron.

The parade will not just be celebrating the formation of the 67th squadron, but will also be remembering the 31 victims of the floods.

The floods, which claimed over 80 lives on the northwest Norfolk coast, occurred on Saturday, January 31, 1953.

The floods were caused when high sea levels, whipped on by hurricane force winds, coincided with low atmospheric pressure and high tide.

Waves were reported as high as 4.9m, while a 2m high wave crashed through King's Lynn town centre.

Along the east coast of England 307 people died and around 24,000 homes were damaged by the storm.

The floods are considered to have been the worst peacetime disaster in Britain during the 20th century.

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