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Royals share flood memorial

PUBLISHED: 05:13 01 February 2003 | UPDATED: 16:13 24 February 2010

AS ESSEX was besieged with snow, extreme weather conditions from 50 years ago were remembered at a special service to mark the anniversary of the East Coast floods attended by the Earl and Countess of Wessex

Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie, met flood victims at a reception and lunch at County Hall, Chelmsford, after the service in Chelmsford Cathedral.

AS ESSEX was besieged with snow, extreme weather conditions from 50 years ago were remembered at a special service to mark the anniversary of the East Coast floods attended by the Earl and Countess of Wessex

Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie, met flood victims at a reception and lunch at County Hall, Chelmsford, after the service in Chelmsford Cathedral.

The county remembered the terrible floods caused by hurricane winds and a spring tide, which devastated coastal communities on Saturday, January 31, 1953 claiming the lives of 119 people.

Some 750 invited guests from all over the country - as well as the Dutch ambassador and commissioner of Belgium and Holland - managed to get to the service despite the bad weather.

The Queen, who was supposed to attend the service but cancelled because of her bad knee, sent her own personal written message, which accompanied the order of service, telling how she recalled visiting the devastated areas, and witnessed scenes of havoc and destruction caused by the floods.

During the service, Ray Howard, county councillor for Canvey Island, who was an 11-year-old boy at the time relived his memories of the floods.

He spoke from the heart as he told of how the waters gushed down the street and saw "a huge wall of water."

"The full extent of the danger was not fully recognised," he said.

He told of the rescue of his family and finished by saying: "We, the survivors, thank each and everyone who gave us back our island."

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Right Reverend John Perry, said recent floods in Essex and other parts of the country have provided a glimpse of the disruption and havoc that one of nature's most powerful elements can cause.

"There is one lesson to be learnt from the floods of 1953 and it is best expressed in the words of John Norris, a farmer and the vice Lord Lieutenant of Essex, who recalled for me some of his vivid memories," he said.

"We must always remember that nature commands. We can give no guarantee that it could not happen again - a little humility is always needed as the snow and ice of the last 24 hours has shown us."

Children from the Cathedral School formed a guard of honour as the Royal couple entered and left the cathedral. About 150 onlookers cheered as the couple walked over to County Hall, including four-year-old Lauren Barnes who was desperate to meet a "real princess", according to her mother, Sarah.

Nine-year-old William Haswell, from the Cathedral School, said: "That was a once in a lifetime experience."

William and other children from his Year 4/5 class had written to the Queen saying how sorry they were that she had hurt her knee and could not get to Chelmsford – and she had replied thanking them for their lovely letters and artwork.

At County Hall, the Earl and Countess met flood survivors and those involved in rescues, including Reg Bush from Great Baddow, before a private lunch.

Mr Bush said: "I worked in the county flood control office and went to Canvey Island on the night of the floods. I went about 10pm to try and establish the situation and then came back here and set up the county flood control," said Reg, 91, who attended the service with wife Peggy.

He added: "It was total chaos. One of my roles was also trying to get enough blankets. We were getting them from hospitals and anywhere we could, but it was hard. Peggy also came down to make snacks and tea for everyone.

"It was lovely meeting Sophie and she was very interested in what our involvement was in the floods, asking us all about it. It's been a lovely day."


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