Cat no. 60

East Coast Floods

Running time13:17 Black & White Silent 1953 Hunstanton, Norfolk

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The devastation caused by the East Coast floods of 1953 at Hunstanton and the surrounding area.


AmateurArchive Alive

Shots of the damage caused along the promenade at Hunstanton and the ruins of the open air bathing pool. The Queen is seen touring the area and talking to local officials and people involved in the rescue operation. The military ambulances and relief vehicles are shown in front of the Green. A USAAF water tank dispensing water to residents in a suburban street. Women collect water in pails.

Another sequence, posed for the camera, shows a group of men trying to move a telephone box that had been swept along and deposited by the floods. General scenes of devastation throughout this film show houses and bungalows, as well as beach huts, chalets and caravans ruined; frequently torn up by the force of the flood and left hundreds of yards from their original sites. Once again prefabs seem to have born the brunt of the damage. Some poignant scenes include a rucksack discarded in the attempt to escape the water. Clothing and shoes can be seen spilling out; an empty suitcase discarded; a rocking horse leaning against a door frame of a ruined house; a man is seen picking through the remains of his ruined house; a tin of vim is shown still doggedly standing on a shelf in an otherwise ruined house.

At Snettisham, the streets still flooded and damage caused to the surrounding area. There are shots of the RAF police check point and some of the servicemen involved in the relief operation are filmed in their make shift headquarters. At Heacham a tractor and trailer loaded full of possessions, mattresses etc. Plant machinery are shown piling up the shingle to form a makeshift seawall. There is a sequence filmed from a moving vehicle progressing along the road from Heacham Beach to the village. A final brief scene shows how so many structures came to rest at the first thing strong enough to block their path; in this instance at the side of the railway line.

Background Information:

The flood hit Hunstanton at 7pm on Saturday, 31st January. The tide level was seven or eight feet above normal. In Norfolk alone, there were 26,000 acres of farmland under water and eighty people died. This film shows the USAAF with tanks of fresh water in Hunstanton. One of the pleasant surprises of the night in the Hunstanton area was the swift and effective reaction to the disaster of the US Air Force. The 'Yanks' were not particularly welcome in north-west Norfolk; American servicemen seemed ostentatiously prosperous in an area traditionally one of Britain's poorest. They rented homes (in which some of them were to die on the night of the floods) that local people felt should have been used for local needs.

The USAAF showed a foreign and welcome readiness to cut corners, identify immediate needs and act. Many USAAF men and their families lived on the stretch of coast between Hunstanton and Lynn. The memorial at South Beach, Hunstanton alone lists sixteen Americans among the thirty one victims named. Within an hour of the disaster, units from the base at Sculthorpe were on the scene. The American forces followed up later with field kitchens to succour the volunteer rescuers and returning householders and, a grimmer task, with parties of beachcombers working methodically along the shoreline in search of bodies.

One of the heroes of the night, later to be the first non-British recipient of the George medal, was USAAF Corporal Reis Leming [who was twenty-two and a non-swimmer] single-handedly rescued twenty-seven people from the South Beach area of Hunstanton.

(From: North Sea Surge by Michael Pollard, 1978. Published by Terence Dalton, Limited, Lavenham, Suffolk.)

Featured People:

H.R.H. The Queen

Featured Organisations:

Norfolk Constabulary; USAAF; RAF

E.E. Swain

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