Floods in East Anglia during 1912 to 1953 - 12th January 2016
On 12th January the 2016 season got underway with an archive film about the floods in East Anglia during 1912 to 1953; a topical subject in view of the dreadful situations which occurred before and after Christmas in northern parts of England and Scotland. Secretary Clare Mathieson is to be congratulated on finding film so relevant to the recent tragic circumstances.
The film opened with scenes of the Fens in 1912 when water levels rose by 8ft, following over 4 inches of rain, which washed away defensive banks built in Roman times. Then in February 1938 the Norfolk coast was lashed by terrible storms and 1947 saw the coldest winter in memory with heavy snow and later persistent rain causing the rapid thaw that did so much damage to arable land. At one time the water was rising by 1ft an hour. All of these events had been filmed mostly by talented amateurs to show houses submerged to the eaves, fishing boats in the middle of village greens, people being rescued and debris everywhere.
Perhaps the most awesome pictures were those dating from 31st January 1953 when a freak tidal surge - with a gale measured at 113 mph - hit the East Anglian coast causing widespread flooding. There were many deaths from Harwich to Hunstanton. The people of Norway donated timber houses and American servicemen based in the area helped in the enormous clear up operation. Industry was badly affected particularly the large margarine factory at Purfleet. where the factory floor was 15ft under water.
As the water receded the full horror of the damage and contamination was revealed and it is an incredible fact that moving from disaster back to normality took just 43 days. In this time every piece of equipment had to be completely dismantled and cleaned or replaced; gallons of anti-bacterial chemicals were used in repeated procedures in which all the staff and many volunteers helped.
It should be remembered that this was a generation for whom memories of the blitz and warfare were still vivid and it is to their great credit that they just got on with the job. In 1953 there was no central warning system of floods - but this was to be set up within a year or two. This was a gripping film albeit with some very sad reminders of the past.