Town remembers those lost and the heroes of the 1953 floods

Freeman Kilpatrick, who has died - He helped save 18 people in Hunstanton during the East Coast Floo

Freeman Kilpatrick, who rescued 18 people from their homes in Hunstanton during the 1953 floods - Credit: Archant Archive

A town remembered those who lost their lives and the heroism of those who risked their own to save others in the 1953 floods.  

Some 31 perished on the night of January 31, when a storm surge crashed through the sea defences at Hunstanton.

HUnstanton flood memorial

Wreaths were laid at the memorial in Hunstanton to the 31 victims of the 1953 floods - Credit: Chris Bishop

Sixteen of those killed were American service personnel, who were billeted in houses along South Beach Road.

The terrible night also saw heroic acts, as US airmen from the 67th Air Rescue Squadron went to rescue those in danger.

CB wreath laying

Members of the 67th Special Operations Squadron took part in the ceremony - Credit: Chris Bishop

On what would have been the eve of the 69th anniversary of the disaster, members of the present day 67th Special Operations Squadron, based at RAF Mildenhall, joined Hunstanton mayor Adrian Winnington, town councillors and people from the town at the flood memorial in the Esplanade Gardens.

floods memorial

Hunstanton mayor Adrian Winnington lays a wreath at the town's memorial to those who died in the 1953 floods - Credit: Chris Bishop

The names of the dead were read out by Mr Winnington and the 67th SOS Squadron's commander, Lt Col Jared Williams.

Jared Willams

Lt Col Jared Williams reads out the names of the 16 Americans who died in the 1953 floods at Hunstanton - Credit: Chris Bishop

The party then walked a short distance along the clifftops to a walkway which is being named in honour of an American airman who saved 18 lives on the night of the storm. 

Freeman KIlpatrick

Staff Sgt Vinnie Telmanik of the US Air Force unveils the sign on the newly-named Freeman Kilpatrick Walk at Hunstanton - Credit: Chris Bishop

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Freeman Kilpatrick, who died at the age of 87 in 2014, was a 26-year-old US Air Force Sergeant stationed at RAF Sculthorpe, near Fakenham.

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Devastation in the wake of the 1953 floods at Hunstanton - Credit: Archant Archive

Sgt Kilpatrick, from Louisiana, lived with his wife Sara and daughter Suellen in a bungalow on South Beach Road.

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US Air Force personnel and a police officer survey the damage after the 1953 floods - Credit: Chris Bishop

On the night of the storm, he was due to go out but as he stepped out the door he saw the storm surge, he ran to his neighbours' houses to warn them and take them to higher ground. 

flood memorial

Members of the 67th Special Operations Squadron, from RAF Mildenhall, join Hunstanton mayor Adrian Winnington, town councillors and residents to remember those who lost their lives in the 1953 floods - Credit: Chris Bishop

By then he had swam back to his own home, the water was rising rapidly and the family had to get out onto the roof. Their house was washed away and they spent hours clinging onto the wreckage before they were themselves rescued.

Freeman medal

The George Medal awarded to Freeman Kilpatrick to honour his bravery on the night of the 1953 floods in Hunstanton - Credit: Chris Bishop

Sgt Kilpatrick was later presented with the George Medal for bravery, one of just five Americans to have been presented with the honour in peacetime.

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Reis Leming, who waded out to save people from the 1953 floods despite the fact he could not swim - Credit: Archant Archive

They included fellow 67th Sqn airman Reis Leming, who waded out and rescued 27 people on the night of the storm despite the fact he could not swim, before collapsing from hypothemia.

Reis Leming

Reis Leming Way, named after one of the heroes of the 1953 floods - Credit: Chris Bishop

A walkway in Hunstanton is named after airman Leming. 

1953 floods medals

Reis Leming and Freeman Kilpatricks' George Medals which they were awarded for their bravery on the night of the 1953 floods - Credit: Chris Bishop

Lt Col Williams spoke of the special bond forged between Hunstanton and the 67th SOS Sqn at a buffet at the town hall.

He said the twinning was the only one which existed across the entire US military.

Williams painting

Lt Col Williams receives a copy of a painting commemorating his squadron's special relationship with Hunstanton from the town's mayor Adrian Winnington - Credit: Chris Bishop

Lt Col Williams was resented with two copies of a painting honouring the relationship on behalf of Hunstanton by Mr Winnington - one for the squadron's HQ and one for his home after he leaves the UK later this year.