Ex-pat Danny remembers the regular ‘Lichfield Lake’!
- Credit: Jack Harrison
Those of us with first-hand recollections of the disastrous 1953 floods, which caused havoc and deaths in the Great Yarmouth area and elsewhere, will never forget them. Any reference to that appalling night of Saturday, January 31 is guaranteed to evoke memories for older generations, not least because nine local people were killed.
The borough has always been bedevilled by floods before and since 1953. Indeed, one of the pictures illustrating today’s column was taken by schoolboy photographer Jack Harrison - son of long-serving former Peggotty columnist Joe Harrison - who notes that it shows “a far less remembered” flood a year later, in January 1954.
And John McBride’s A Diary of Great Yarmouth, published in 1998, lists no fewer than 33 occurrences between 1257 and 1983, and there have been several others since he compiled that record. Indeed, low-lying Lichfield and Cobholm, the principal victims, were threatened again only this January.
Recently I wrote about pensioner Rosa Bull’s long-surviving rose being included in the Guinness Book of Records. It was damaged in her Lichfield Road garden in the 1953 surge, was replanted, transplanted to her new Gorleston home and survived for many years as a bloom sealed in a water-filled glass globe. Its endurance and longevity earned its inclusion in that record book.
From his home in Canada, expatriate Yarmouthian Danny Daniels - noting that Lichfield Road “did have a habit of becoming Lichfield Lake every 20 years or so” - writes that when the 1953 devastating flood happened, his family had fortunately moved from Southtown to St Catherine’s Way in Gorleston.
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But he mentions a wartime inundation: “I remember my Dad telling me about the floods in 1943 when my sister Barbara - who was serving in the WAAFs (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) - came home on leave that particular night.
“Coming from Vauxhall Station, she’d had to wade from Station Road into deeper and deeper water on Lichfield until she reached our house (number 127). My Dad, who had got up to go and meet her, had gone down in the darkness because the power was off by then. At the third step, he found himself in the cold water!”
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Danny recollects that his mother always asserted afterwards that his father’s surprised shout “must have woken the neighbours!” When Barbara eventually arrived, she told him not to open the front door because there was a lot of water outside, to which he replied, in so many words: “There’s a hell of a lot in here, too!”
Danny adds that in the 1953 floods, his wife Marjorie’s Granny Gillings, who lived on Gordon Road in Southtown, “also suffered from the inundation and had her upright piano washed flat on to its back by the water influx. I don’t think it did her grandfather clock much good either...”
WAAF Barbara Daniels encountered flood-water problems when coming home on leave from her unit in 1943. As for me, a decade later I was on my first weekend pass from National Service basic training when the flood delayed my return from Yarmouth to Royal Air Force Hednesford in Staffordshire.
On the Sunday morning after the Saturday night floods, I left my Gorleston home and, because there were no buses, started walking to Yarmouth Beach railway station for a midday train back to Birmingham, but found roads impassable beyond the Half-Way House public house.
Despite the fear of a flight-sergeant haranguing me at best, or at worst being shot at dawn by a firing squad for desertion of duty if I failed to report back by 2359 (midnight) on that Sunday, I had to walk back home, defeated. I rang RAF Hednesford and was ordered to help with rescue work until I could catch a train back to camp.
A few months later I was posted...to RAF Hopton, only a short cycle ride from my home, where I completed my compulsory two years.