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Disaster victims to be remembered on floods tragedy anniversary

PUBLISHED: 15:23 04 January 2018

Aerial view of the area of Felixstowe affected by the 1953 floods. Picture: ARCHANT ARCHIVE

Aerial view of the area of Felixstowe affected by the 1953 floods. Picture: ARCHANT ARCHIVE

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A Suffolk seaside town will this month remember 41 of its residents who died when a tidal surge swept through its streets, causing devastation.

Felixstowe seafront in the 1953 floods. Picture: ARCHANT ARCHIVE Felixstowe seafront in the 1953 floods. Picture: ARCHANT ARCHIVE

To mark the 65th anniversary of the North Sea flood in 1953, Britain’s worst peace-time tragedy, Felixstowe is staging two special memorial events – with the resort’s mayor Nick Barber saying it is essential the terrible night and its impact is never forgotten.

Today the town has modern sea defences built to withstand the surge which left some streets in its low-lying West End area six feet deep in floodwaters.

Many of those whose homes were flooded and were rescued, and a few of those touched by the loss of loved ones, friends and neighbours, still live in the Langer Road area.

Of the 41 who died, 13 of them were children.

Floods historian Ian Heeley at the Felixstowe Floods Memorial in Langer Road - the top of the wall marks the height of the floodwaters at the spot. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR Floods historian Ian Heeley at the Felixstowe Floods Memorial in Langer Road - the top of the wall marks the height of the floodwaters at the spot. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Mr Barber said: “It is so important as a town to mark this occasion. It was the biggest post-war catastrophe Felixstowe has known.

“Many of our residents still remember the 1953 floods and it is vital that we all remember those that were lost, those left behind and also those who put others before themselves.”

To commemorate the 65th anniversary, Felixstowe Town Council and St John’s Church are arranging a Concert of Memories.

The service will be held at the church in Orwell Road, Felixstowe, on Saturday, January 27 from 6pm to 7pm and all are welcome to attend to hear different perspectives on the disaster and how it happened and its aftermath, and to reflect together.

The church will also be hosting an exhibition of images and archive material from the time and people are invited to contribute their memories, photos or artefacts for the display.

The Felixstowe Society and Felixstowe Museum are coordinating the exhibition and are particularly keen to hear from survivors or relatives of those affected by the floods with their memories of the night of the tragedy. People are invited to email enquiries@felixstowe.gov.uk if they have a story to share.

On the anniversary of the disaster, at 3pm on January 31, flowers will be placed and a short moment of reflection will be held at the Flood Memorial, Langer Road. Anyone who would like to attend should contact Lorna Monsen on 01394 288193 or email Lorna.Monsen@felixstowe.gov.uk

Lack of communications and warning systems was one of the key factors which led to so many deaths in the 1953 floods.

Along the east coast 307 died as the surge, funnelled down the North Sea, with 30,000-plus people evacuated, sea defences smashed, river walls breached, and 160,000 acres of farmland left under water.

Most who died in Felixstowe lived in prefab houses at the corner of Langer Road and Orford Road.

The torrent – a sea surge which burst through the banks of the River Orwell, tearing across Trimley Marshes – ripped the properties from their foundations, sweeping them down the road and leaving them 6ft 6ins deep in water.

At Felixstowe, about 800 acres – one fifth of the town – was flooded, including homes and part of the air base where the port now stands.

Higher ground on the seafront was unaffected and the Cavendish Hotel was used as a rescue centre.

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