Floods of 1953: Family saved by dad’s toothache

Jean Hart and her brother Robin Porter shares their memories of the 1953 floods.

Jean Hart and her brother Robin Porter shares their memories of the 1953 floods. - Credit: Andrew Partridge

MEMORIES of the night of January 31, 1953, when 41 people died at Felixstowe as the low-lying southern part of the town was flooded by a sea surge, are still as vivid 60 years on. RICHARD CORNWELL reports.

Felixstowe: Manor Terrace and the resort's south seafront the day after the 1953 floods struck.

Felixstowe: Manor Terrace and the resort's south seafront the day after the 1953 floods struck. - Credit: Archant

ROBIN Porter has the distinction of being the youngest survivor of the 1953 floods – saved by his father’s toothache.

Maureen Rooke, now of Colneis Road, Felixstowe , who was rescued in the 1953 floods.

Maureen Rooke, now of Colneis Road, Felixstowe , who was rescued in the 1953 floods. - Credit: Andrew Partridge

Robin was just seven days old at the time, so of course can remember nothing about the disaster which struck Felixstowe on the night of January 31, but the drama has been talked about in the family many times over the decades.

His sister Jean Hart, who was 11 years old at the time, said: “As was the custom in those days my parents decided mother would give birth downstairs and the birth was attended by Dr Leslie Smith.

“My father Frederick awoke that raging night suffering from toothache, which you could say saved our lives.

“The water was by then pouring into our house.

“I awoke to hear my dad saying it was the sea and I ran downstairs. Dad was using all his strength trying to close the front door.

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“I was standing knee deep in the water and I put my hand into the ice cold flow to taste it as I could not believe it was the sea as dad had said.

“It was and it was the coldest I had ever been.

“By this time my mother, Gladys, who was ill after Robin’s birth, and dad were struggling to get some of our belongings upstairs – especially the mattress off the bed and a chest of drawers that contained all of my new brother’s clothes.

“All I could think of was him. I lifted Robin from his cot and ran upstairs with him. I was wet and freezing and thought the world was ending, but I had my prize safe in my bed with me, my brother Robin. Then I heard my mother cry out, ‘Where’s my baby! Where’s my baby!’ I said, ‘I have got him, mum’.”

The family spent that night in one room on the mattress they had hauled upstairs at their home in Manwick Road. Mr Porter insisting that it was safest to be together.

“It was a good job he said that as we would have run straight into the torrent which we thought at that time was coming from the seafront not Langer Road,” said Mrs Hart.

“We listened to the cries of the people who drowned in the bungalow at the corner of St Edmunds Road and saw their hands waving out of the roof. I remember it so well that I have to look at the new tiles on the roof even to this day every time I go past.

“Some time during that night I saw a very brave policeman going down the lane beside our house. He was up to his neck in the water with his arms in the air trying to get to the people in the bungalow. A while later he came back with a bad cut across his nose and face – I thought he was so brave. That was when dad said the water was going down because it was only up to the policeman’s chest.”

In the early hours of the morning, the family saw a small rowing boat approaching, rowed by firemen with Dr Smith with them.

“Dr Smith said he had been worrying about mum and her new baby being downstairs. Mum and I were carried out to the boat by the firemen and dad carried Robin,” she recalled.

They were taken to the Cavendish Hotel, being used as an emergency reception and rest centre for the homeless.

? Tell us your memories of the 1953 floods – write to Your Letters, Ipswich Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or email starletters@archant.co.uk