1953 East Coast floods: Survivor haunted by cancelled party

1953 floods in Hunstanton
Image caption Many properties in Hunstanton were destroyed in the floods that January night

On the night of 31 January 1953, a wall of water surged from the North Sea, devastating the east coast of England.

More than 300 people died and about 30,000 had to leave their homes in parts of Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk.

In Hunstanton, Norfolk, 31 people died, 15 local people and four families from the United States. The 67th Air Rescue Squadron from the US was based at RAF Sculthorpe, just a few miles up the road.

Survivor Neil Quincy, a taxi driver at the time, said: "It wasn't like a river overflowing, it was like a raging sea.

"The first bungalow on the road, it went in through the front and took the whole back wall out, everything."

To this day, Mr Quincy, whose home was on higher ground in the town, is haunted by the belief that if a birthday party planned for his daughter had gone ahead, many children would not have drowned.

'Pitch dark'

His eldest daughter's birthday was on 29 January and she was due to have a party two days later.

Mr Quincy said: "The weather was so rough on that day - gale force winds - and several of the children had colds, so my wife decided that they would postpone it and have it another night.

"Most of those kids that drowned would have been at that birthday party.

"My wife never forgot it to the day she died."

Image caption Mr Quincy was working as a taxi driver at the time of the 1953 floods

Many of the families whose children would have been at the party lived on South Beach Road, Hunstanton, which initially bore the brunt of the water.

Although Mr Quincy's house avoided the worst of the flooding his wife and three daughters still needed rescuing.

Mr Quincy, who had been working, made his way to the lower part of the town where the 67th Squadron were already on scene trying to help.

He managed to get on board a rescue vessel.

"It was pitch dark, gale blowing, the spray from the waves was like a handful of shingle in your face," he said.

"All of those who died were dead by eight o'clock that evening."

As the rescue boat reached Mr Quincy's bungalow, it was swamped by a wave, but he and the crew jumped to safety.

Mr Quincy, his wife, two girls and their nine-month-old son were eventually rescued by US Airman Reis Leming, who helped 27 people from the floods that night, and was awarded a George Medal for his bravery.

"I owe a debt of thanks to all of those people," said Mr Quincy.

"We were the only complete family that survived."

More on this story on BBC Inside Out East at 19:30 GMT on Monday 28 January

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