Benfleet Yacht Club's Young Heroes

The Floods of 1953 including Benfleet High Street

This extract is taken from

‘The Great Tide. The story of the 1953 flood disaster in Essex’

By Hilda Grieve (P 403) Published by Essex County Council, this extract is from the police sergeant’s report at the time.

A group of young people from Benfleet Yacht Club helped to rescue and evacuate members of the public from the Canvey Island flood.

‘Ten members of the South Benfleet Yacht Club were responsible for saving over 60 people from the Sixty Acres and Winter Gardens area of Canvey Island.  This area was flooded to a depth of about 5 feet on the north side of the inner sea wall.  They rowed their boats from South Benfleet and whilst 8 male members rescued the people in their boats, the two women set up a shelter in an empty house for the old people.’

They later helped the police move these people to safety.

The police report continues.  ‘They carried out their self – appointed task in the face of a bitter wind and a strong current which made their boats practically unmanageable, and they did not stop until they had made certain that every living person had been removed from the flooded bungalows.  In their efforts to rescue, the men were forced to enter the water on occasion, to get the people out of their houses.  Had it not been for their efforts I am certain that the death roll on this day would have been much greater.’

A seventy –year-old woman who had endured a twelve hour wait to be rescued commented after her rescue by a young man from the Benfleet Yacht Club, that he was ‘calm, helpful and most courteous.’ She was very thankful to her rescuer when the boat landed her on central wall path, so that she could be evacuated to South Benfleet Primary school. ( page 404)


From Bobby Phillips (nee Fisher) one of the rescuers in the picture below.

(notes made March 2014)

‘On the evening of the 1952 flood I was at the yacht club thinking the tide was high when my friend Morris Johnson (father was last independent chairman of Benfleet Council) arrived on a coach from a trip to London with workmates of the Regent Oil Depot.  There were queues to Canvey due to the tied, he went home to get his boots.  He and I walked along Ferry road towards the bridge.  The water was up through the boatyard and had floated two or three huge baulks of timber across the road.  The tied was turning so we pushed them back off the road while they still floated.  If Morris hadn’t had the common sense to do this the road to Canvey would have been blocked to all traffic (including ambulances etc) when the tied dropped.’

‘We waded to the bridge and watched all the debris being pushed up against the bridge by the outgoing tide, including Morris’s dinghy,’

‘we went home, not having any idea that Canvey was flooded, until the next day when we took dinghies over on a truck to help rescue people.’

One of the rescue parties from Benfleet Yacht Club
Paddy Marrison's collection. The photographer is thought to be Ken Brown who also went over to Canvey Island that morning.
The names of the rescue party. From left to right Roger Gilbert, Dennis Kemp, Joan Phillips, Brian Castle, Morris Johnson and Bobby Fisher.
Paddy Marrison
Joan Philips (nee English) one of the crew above 'assisting the law' get about in Benfleet, in the sea rangers dinghy. The boat is in the flooded High Street close to where the taxi rank is now outside the station , at that time it was outside the photographers Shiner and Holmes.
Joan English (nee Philips)
These photograps were taken by the rescue group and this is one of the breaches in the sea wall and Joan English (nee Philips) reports 'watching it go and being rather scared'.
Joan English (nee Philips)
Traffic on Canvey Island shortly after the floods.
Joan English (nee Philips)
Looking towards Benfleet from New Road, Canvey Island, this bunglow is thought to be number 19. This was the conditions that met the group.
From the collection of Joan English (nee Philips) source unknown.
Looking towards Benfleet Downs, Canvey Island is awash.
Joan English (nee Philips)
The Canvey Flood
Joan Phillips went on to Canvey with other members of the yacht club, the other photographs from Joan Phillips on this page were taken at this time. 3 minutes.

Comments about this page

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  • I would like to point out that there were other Canvey flood heroes, my late husband being one of them. He may not have been in the photograph, but as you can see by the cutting, from this local paper, ‘Revealed: Secret file of and island’s unsung heroes’, he is mentioned. He actually went on his own in his own dinghy.

    Use this link to see the paper cutting and the full content of this comment.

    By Eileen Brown (14/09/2014)
  • I was a pupil at South Benfleet County Primary School at the time of the flood. I remember my father, on hearing of the disaster, going to the school, which was being used as a holding centre, and bringing home a man, his wife and two children to stay with us. He was given brown/grey army blankets to use as bedding for them. I’m not sure if Dad was supposed to return the blankets but one came in very useful years later as a Scouting Camp Blanket. I sewed the badges on myself! I too remember the royal visit to the school – all very exciting to a nine year old.

    By Jenny Willson (06/03/2013)
  • I too remember the floods although I was safe and snug in my bed that night but the following morning I reported to King John’s school. At the time I was a pupil there but part of my time had been spent in the school restaurant and it had been opened to feed and house those flooded out. I did five or six days there helping out including the Royal Visit, then I was hustled out as questions had been asked about my age and what was I doing there, might have been a good grounding for later when I would be helping to feed seven hundred and fifty first class passengers on board the Orcades and Oriana.

    By Colinmac (04/03/2013)
  • The photograph of the bungalow entitled ‘somewhere on Canvey Island’ is in fact taken looking towards Benfleet from New Road, the house number was; I think No. 19.

    The land south of here was part of Cook’s farm. My Grandmother lived just across the road at No. 16 my parents lived there also, until the year before the flood. The bungalow shown in the photo was positioned at the bottom of a dip in the road, with a dyke running beside it, so the water there was deeper in that spot.

    By Robert Scott (27/04/2012)
  • My uncle, Morris Johnson, was with the rescue party from Benfleet on the first morning of the flood. He can be seen, third from the right in the group photograph. 

    He told me recently that one of their first jobs that morning was to ease a sailing barge off of the wharf at Benfleet, so that it didn’t become stranded as the tide ebbed. 

    After that, he and Bobby Fisher found large baulks of timber floating across the road from the boatyard on the Canvey shore. Fortunately they were able to float them back into the yard before they were left blocking the road by the falling tide.

    By Ian Johnson (12/12/2011)
  • Great photos, new to me, and so nice to hear an almost forgotten rescue story. Thank you for letting us see them. Pat.

    By Patricia Smith (05/12/2011)

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