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1953: Britain honours American hero
Reis Leming, a 22-year-old US airman stationed in Britain, has been presented with the George Medal.

He rescued 27 people in East Anglia during the winter floods.

The award, the first given to a foreigner during peacetime, was presented by Home Secretary Sir David Maxwell Fyfe.

The night of 31 January 1953 will never be forgotten by those who survived it.

The combined effects of hurricane force winds and a high tide took sea levels to eight feet above their predicted levels.

Alone on rubber raft

Mr Leming was stationed at a US airbase at Sculthorpe when the tempest hit nearby Hunstanton.

He ventured out alone on a small rubber raft in the pitch black and managed to save some of those clinging onto rooftops.

Many of those trapped by the floods were families of American servicemen living off base in South Beach Road.

After several hours in the raging storm he himself collapsed with severe hypothermia.

The tidal surge had devastating consequences all along the Suffolk coast - more than 300 people were killed and vast tracts of land covered in flood water.

The worst hit was Felixstowe where 38 people lost their lives and hundreds were made homeless.

Around a fifth of the town was flooded.

Another 37 lost their lives when the wooden seafront township of Jaywick near Clacton was swamped.

Canvey Island in Essex was utterly overwhelmed with the loss of 58 lives. Five people died at Southwold as the town was cut off by floodwater from the north and south.

The Queen, who was at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk at the time, visited Hunstanton the following day.

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Floods sweep through Sea Palling, 1953
The floods devastated the Suffolk coast
Photo: Eastern Daily Press, Norwich

In Context
The 1953 East Coast floods were the worst peacetime disaster in Britain during the 20th Century.

Four other people were later awarded the George Medal for their bravery on that night - two Lincolnshire policemen, a Great Yarmouth fireman and another American.

Fifty years later, in January 2003, Reis Leming returned to Hunstanton for an emotional reunion with survivors.

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