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EDITIONS
Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 16:34 GMT
Horror of the floods undimmed
Violet Sparrow and her home
Violet and the house where she saved her children

The 1953 floods devastated many communities dotted around the East Anglian coast. A handful of survivors recall their struggle to survive
Dotted line gif
Few communities suffered more grievously than Felixstowe in Suffolk when the seas engulfed the East Coast on the night of 31 January 1953.

Thirty-eight people died in one small area when their wooden prefabricated homes in the West End area were swamped.

As with most of the communities swallowed by the sea that night, there had been no warning.

The hurricane force winds had toppled telephone lines further north in Norfolk and Lincolnshire.

Fred and Lucy Chapman
Fred and Lucy Chapman have never forgotten the terror
In the chaos and struggle to survive, there was no way to warn those living further south in Suffolk and Essex.

The result was catastrophe. As well as the 38 who died in Felixstowe, another 37 lost their lives when the wooden seafront township of Jaywick near Clacton was swamped.

And the tempest saved its worst for last.

Canvey Island in Essex was utterly overwhelmed with the loss of 58 lives.

Ironically, in Felixstowe the surge - 6 ft high and more - did not over-top the sea wall.

Instead it swept up the River Orwell and burst through the banks and rushed across the marshes.

We were like animals fighting for our lives

Lucy Chapman
The flimsy prefabs in the Langar Road district were pushed aside like dolls' houses.

Fred and Lucy Chapman had gone to bed when they were awoken by the sound of water at 0100 GMT.

Lucy stepped out of bed into water that had already crept up to the level of the mattress.

Asleep in the other bedroom were their baby daughter and their son, Peter.

They had two choices: clamber on to the top of their bungalow and hope they would not be swept away or swim for their lives.

They choose to swim. Fifty years later Lucy remembers the events as if they had happened yesterday.

"We were like animals fighting for our lives. I watched Fred swim to a house clutching the baby before I set off with Peter. How we made it I will never know."

Fred and Lucy have never forgotten the terror of that night.

Naked clamber

They watched helplessly as neighbours were swept to their deaths in the raging waters.

Not far away Violet Sparrow was battling to save the lives of her three children as the waters swept into their home close by the Gas Works.

Mum had saved our lives and now here was dad, we were going to be okay

Violet Sparrow's daughter Margaret Learmouth

She had been awoken as the furniture below began bumping the ceiling as the waters poured in.

Daughter Margaret Learmouth has never forgotten her mother's courage.

"Mum saved all our lives. She was calm, never let on to us children how scared she must have been."

After smashing a hole in the wall to allow their terrified neighbours to join them, Violet somehow got them all up into the loft.

She remembers with amusement that she had to put aside her own modesty to clamber naked up into the loft before wrapping herself with a blanket.

And there the three adults and three children stayed, frozen and frightened, until they were rescued the next morning as the flood waters began to recede.

Ironically Violet's husband had been away on coastguard duty that night.

Margaret Learmouth vividly remembers their rescue: "We were looking out of the window and saw dad approaching.

"Mum had saved our lives and now here was dad, we were going to be okay."


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23 Jan 03 | England
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