Canvey Flood

The Unsung Heroes

Fred Hammerton tells of unsung heroes from the Canvey floods of 1953
Eileen Brown

The content of this page was submitted by Eileen Brown as a comment on the page titled “Benfleet Yacht Club’s Young Heroes”.

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.

I would also like to say that I did not meet Ken until the October of 1953 (it was, in fact, a blind date! – at that year’s Benfleet Yacht Club dinner and dance.)

I can only go on what I was told much later about the event. But, to get the facts right I asked Ken’s niece, Shirley, and with her help and that of Ken’s nephew, John, I can now give you the full story:

“As promised as much as I can remember about the flood.

As far as I can remember Ken used to tell me that he woke up one morning and looked out of the window to see Canvey absolutely under water and he rushed down to his boat to see if he could help.  Whilst rowing his boat from house to house he passed a sideboard or chest of drawers bobbing about in the water and on top of it was a little mouse; he swooped the poor little thing up and put it in his pocket.  Hours later when he got home put his hand in his pocket for something and found the little mouse and let him go in the garden.

Hope that helps and good luck with the writing.

Lots of love, Shirley”.

Transcription of the newspaper cutting

EXAMPLES of bravery during the Canvey flooding of 1953 were never recognised, says the island’s former detective sergeant.
Mr Ron Sewell, who retired a detective chief inspector, has opened his 30-year-old file to the Echo.
It reveals that he recommended 15 people, 10 of them members of Benfleet Yacht Club, for commendable conduct.
Mr Sewell, 67, said: “Nothing ever happened.  But these cases showed real bravery.”
The first involved Mr Albert Lynch, of Tewkes Road.
Mr Lynch, then a 49-year-old labourer with the Rivers Catchment Board, put his wife and children up in the attic as the floods rose, then set out to warn his neighbours.  It was 12.15 am on February 1.
He got round his neighbours, then realised houses on the Newlands Estate were in grave danger, too, and tried to walk there.
Mr, Sewell’s statement at the time told how Mr Lynch fought against the current to rouse people before he was overtaken by the rising water, forced to climb on to a window sill and hang on until daylight.
Then he walked through chest-deep water to safety.
Mrs Doris Proops, a 34-year-old mother, of Central Wall Road, awoke at 2 am.
She grabbed her 9-month-old boy from his cot and her two daughters, aged five and eleven, from the other bedroom.
Her husband climbed onto a window sill and took the baby from her.

Shoulders
   Mrs Proops helped the younger girl on to a sewing machine stand, the only furniture not floating, while the older girl stood up to her shoulders in the water.
Mr Sewell’s statement read: “Mrs Proops realised that their chances of survival were practically nil while they remained in that position and she dropped out through the nearest window into the flood outside to swim to the Central Wall Road 25 yards away.”
“She found the current too strong and the cold so intense that she returned to the house and swam round the back to a ladder to the loft.”
There she found a blanket which she tore into strips and made into a rope.
She let the blanket rope down to her husband 10ft below.  He tied the baby to the rope and Mrs Proops hauled the child to the loft window.
The other two children and her husband were pulled to safety the same way.
Mr Sewell wrote: “Had it not been for her courage her husband and children would have perished.”
Ten members of South Benfleet Yacht Club were responsible for saving more than 60 people from the Sixty Acres and Winter Garden areas of Canvey.
   Mr Sewell’s statement added: “Had it not been for their efforts I am certain that the death role on this day would have been much greater.”
   All aged between 20 and 25 , they were named in the statement as: Joan Phillips, The Hoy Inn, Benfleet; Diana Fisher, Eastleigh Road, Benfleet; Brian and Peter Castle, High Road, Benfleet; Eric and Dennis Kemp, Perry Road, Benfleet; Maurice Johnson, Essex Way, Benfleet;  John Morrison, Avondale Road, Benfleet; James Coleman, Highcliffe Road, Benfleet; and Kenneth Brown, Vicarage Hill, Benfleet.

Authority
Mr Sewell suggested the Chief Constable should be informed about their bravery “with a view to it being passed on to an appropriate authority.”
Mr Sewell and another sergeant picked up 36 people.
The detective sergeant went on to lead the Essex County Police anti-looting squad pictured here.
He is centre, with from left, Det Con Dave Phillips, Len Evans, Bob Palmer, Fred Conn, Eric Hitchcock and Peter Rison
He got the duffel coats and wellies from the council so the squad would look just like ordinary islanders.

Comments about this page

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  • Eric Hitchcock, in the picture 2nd from right, was my father who died in 1989. I remember him going to Canvey during the floods. He was stationed at Pitsea at the time.

    While he was with the Police at Pitsea he was awarded the BEM for bravery. This was for disarming a gunman.

    I have a lot of photos etc. relating to his Royal Navy and Police careers. Let me know if they are of interest. 

    Susan Hawkins nee Hitchcock

    By Susan Hawkins (17/01/2016)
  • A lovely story, Eileen.

    It’s nice to see my late uncle Ken’s solo trip recorded.

    As a kind and warm-hearted man, it would be totally in his nature to take pity on, and rescue, a little mouse!

    John

    By John Brown (16/09/2014)

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