52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History – Disasters

This is the tenth challenge in a weekly series from GeneaBloggers called 52 weeks of personal genealogy and  history, suggested  by Amy Coffin,  that invite genealogists to record memories and insights about their own lives for future descendants.  Week 10 – Disasters

Today, 9th March 2011 my home town of Sutton-on-Sea will be taking part in Operation Watermark. Funded by Defra and taking place all over the country it is an exercise designed to test both local and national preparations in the event of a flood.  Volunteers will be evacuated from their homes during the day, taken to a rest centre then returned  home in the evening.

I wasn’t born at the time of the flood in 1953 but my mother, father and brother (Ian), who was only five at the time, lived through the disaster.  My mum never really got over it.  In my youth I would love to go onto the promenade on a rough night and watch the waves crashing over the sea wall but for mum the fear was just too great.

My parents ran a glass and china business about 300 yards inland, but down the same street, from The Bacchus Hotel: the white building featured in this picture.  The hotel is still there looking much the same as is the building which housed our shop although we moved out in the early seventies.

Army Duck

Dad, Mum and Ian were rescued by Army ‘duck’ on 1February 1953 the day after the sea had breached the defenses.  By this time the water level had receded but they still had to be reached through an upstairs window.  They were taken up to Hannah Hill.  This is hardly a hill but the very flat landscape of Lincolnshire means we clutch at any incline we can.  It was obviously steep enough to stem the tide as this is as far as it reached – about 2.5 miles inland.

From here the family was moved to Alford.  I’m not sure how long they were here.  Ian went on to stay with an Aunt near Grimsby whilst mum and dad returned to Sutton to start the clean up of their own shop and that of my grandparents who ran their own business from the neighbouring town of Mablethorpe.

Of course for a five year old lad this was all a bit of an exciting adventure.  Ian doesn’t remember being scared even when he saw one of the beach chalets floating down the street or witnessed our dad, chest deep in sea water, bringing two of my brother’s young friends from over the road to his first floor refuge.  Their mum apparently wouldn’t follow so the three of them waved to her from Ian’s bedroom window.

It’d difficult to imagine how terrifying it must have been.  Over 2100 people died, many in Holland which was hardest hit.  There’s more here

In the following years Sutton-on-Sea, which had been protected by only sandhills for most of it’s coast line, was treated to a sea wall along with much of the rest of the east coast.  The first plans for the Thames Barrier started at this time.

The sea defenses have been updated at least twice since.  Most recently sand dredged from the sea bed has been piped to the edge of the beach creating a man made slope This prevents the sea ever reaching the sea wall.  Not so much fun but definitely safer.

Here’s a link to some Pathe news clips

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