Benfleet School Reception Centre For Flood Victims 1953

A Teacher's Memories of the Canvey flood

On this particular Sunday afternoon some friends had told me the news that Canvey Island was flooded and schools were being opened as rest centres.  I went with Dora Harrison to find out what was happening as the headmaster’s wife, Mrs Wood was concerned as her husband had been contacted very early Sunday morning to open the school. She had not heard from him since then.

We came back from Hadleigh by bus but they were only going as far as the top of Bread and Cheese Hill.  We made our way to the school and found that it had become a reception centre for flood casualties. The WVS were cooking food so we stayed to help. The school became a centre for help, we dried the people out that had been evacuated from Canvey Island and King John School received them from us.  We even gave away PE kit for people to wear.

The WVS cooked breakfast on Monday morning so the men could go to work.  The Authorities were afraid that the bridge over Benfleet Creek would collapse as the Army lorries had been using it.  The railway line at Benfleet was flooded towards Leigh.  We slept on the school dining room tables and we did not get back home until the Wednesday. 

Dr Tyndall was a good friend of the school and he spoke on the radio explaining to people what they could do to help. People wanted to assist the displaced persons from Canvey, especially in regard a little baby that was saved called Linda Foster.  I helped sort out the mail that had been sent. There were clothes, letters with money in, sweets and chocolate. There were enough sweets to fill a classroom.  It was all ‘quite amazing – poor people sent postal orders* especially for Linda Foster.’

The Headmasters of Benfleet School, Mr. F. G. Wood and Mr Bert Evans of King John School both received MBEs along with Mr John Denton the headmaster of Hadleigh School who received an OBE for their efforts in relation to the Canvey Floods.  The Queen Mother also visited the school

*A safe way to send money through the post, bought from the Post Office in various denominations plus a fee for their use.

"Britian's Great Flood Disaster"
'Mrs Gwendoline Brown with Ronald (4 months) and Mrs Gloria Budd with Rowland (15months) in the reception centre at Benfleet School. They were among the many refugees from Canvey Island, the most stricken of flood areas.'
'An official at the refugee centre in Benfleet school giving directions to the refugees from Canvey Island.'
Baby Linda Foster, donations for this child were received at Benfleet School.
"Britain's Great Flood Disaster"
'At Benfleet School local volunteer women collect clothing of all kinds for the homeless victims of the floods.
The Queen Mother with the Headmaster Mr Wood at Benfleet School.
Mrs Williams, nee Bass
Photographs From 'Britains Great Flood Diaster' Hank Janson, New Fiction Press, London

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  • As a former pupil of Mrs Williams (then Miss Bass), I have clear memories of the effects of the Canvey floods on both the school and our home life. As Mrs Williams explains, the school was used as a centre for victims of the flood, consequently we children had a ‘holiday’ of several weeks.

    Additionally, local families took in some of those fleeing the flood. My mother’s late grandparents had lived on Canvey Island and, in their memory, she offered to take two old age pensioners. As most people declined to accept either old people or children, there was no difficulty in finding candidates.

    Consequently an elderly couple, who we called ‘auntie’ and ‘uncle’, entered our lives. They were understandably upset with their plight and couldn’t fully grasp what had happened. The lady spoke quite quickly – possibly through nervous energy – and I couldn’t always understand what she was saying. Her husband was more relaxed. He chatted easily with my brother, sister and I, and showed us a few conjuring tricks – which I have since performed to my children and grandchildren!

    Meanwhile my mother helped at the school. She remembers the children’s cloakroom being used for rescued cats, dogs and other pets. It must have been a lively area! ‘Auntie’ and ‘uncle’ spent much of their day at the school. There they ate their midday meal and passed time chatting to other rescuees before returning to our home in the afternoon.

    When, finally, they returned to their own home, and I resumed school, my father kept in touch with the couple. But he felt that the lady never really recovered from the shock of the floods. Eventually she passed away and, feeling the loss of his wife, her husband died soon after.

    By John Brown (12/05/2013)

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