Remembering another January 31st (i) … and February 1st

I wrote yesterday about the ghastly and tragic events on the night of January 31st and the morning of February 1st in 1953, when a tremendous storm surge flooded across the east coast of Scotland and England, and the adjacent Dutch coastline:
1953: Violent storms claim hundreds of lives

Hundreds of people living on the east coast of Britain have died in some of the worst storms ever recorded. Gale force northerly winds lashed the coastline and broke through flood defences from Yorkshire down to Kent throughout the night.
Swelling tides and high winds mixed to form a fatal combination which claimed dozens of lives and flooded thousands of homes on low-lying land all along the east coast. Many people were forced to spend the night on their rooftops waiting to be rescued by over-stretched emergency services.

‘Exceptionally strong winds’

The storm began on the west coast of Ireland yesterday morning, passed over Orkney and then funnelled down the North Sea, driving a deadly mountain of water before it. The Princess Victoria ferry, travelling from Scotland to Ireland, was forced to abandon ship in the Irish Sea after it was caught in the heavy storms. The death toll reached 130. Warnings of “rather high tides” issued by the Dutch authorities did not reach Britain and it is known many people in both Holland and Belgium also lost their lives.

The eye of the storm hit eastern Scotland at approximately midday yesterday as Dunstable Met Office warned of “exceptionally strong winds”. The first fatalities on land were reported at approximately 1700 hors yesterday after 20ft (6m) waves crashed through flood defences in Lincolnshire. More than 40 people are feared drowned. Throughout the night the high winds travelled down the east coast ripping through sea walls and claiming dozens of lives.

Counties worst affected were Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Kent. In Canvey Island, Essex, the entire 13,000-strong population was moved to safety as the bad weather took hold. Essex police said they had recovered 30 bodies during the night. Eye-witnesses up and down the country said water was gushing through streets and thousands of homes were flooded.

Remembering another January 31st (i)

Sixty-five years today, after a dreadful tragedy, lives and livelihoods destroyed by water, I think it is worth reposting what I wrote on a previous anniversary:

I often think that water is my element, but water is deceptively dangerous… and not just for those who swim in it or sail or take boats on it… sometimes even in a person’s own home water can devastate and have a deadly power.
Sixty-four years ago, on the night of January 31st and the morning of February 1st 1953, due to  extraordinary weather conditions – a deep Atlantic depression swept eastwards past the north of Scotland and roared southeastwards through the North Sea. There were northerly gales on the western side of this depression, and they forced the sea water southwards. There was a high spring tide and the storm surge roared towards the coast of eastern England – and across the channel to the Netherlands, and the sea defences were utterly inadequate.
These days with mass communication  it is possible to give some warning, even in the most ghastly and dramatic events, but in 1953 all people had was the radio – not many houses had telephones, and even if they had, it would have been almost impossible to get in touch with enough people in time.

So it was night-time, pitch black on a January night, a storm was raging, and along the coast of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Kent a tidal surge more than eighteen and a half foot high above normal sea level – as high as many of the cottages and bungalows along the coastline, rushed ashore blown on winds gusting at over 125mph.

People were safe and snug at home, children in bed, parents reading the newspaper or doing the chores, when out of the darkness, born on the wind, came water.

Tragically people died… 307 people in England, 19 in Scotland, and 1800 poor souls in the Netherlands. In England, 160,000 acres were flooded – the land unusable for years afterwards – think of the impact on agriculture… the whole infrastructure of the affected areas was down, gasworks, power stations, transport, every form of transport – road, rail and river, sewerage, fresh water… the cost was reckoned then to be £53,000,000 – today that would equal over £1.2 billion…

You can read more about it here, and also what has happened since to try and avoid such a disaster – as far as possible:

Visit this page to see what happened to our Dutch neighbours across the sea:

…and in East Anglia:

As many men as possible

The National Novel Writing Month challenge is approaching and I actually do have a couple of ideas this year!! However, last year I really did struggle; I had decided to attempt to write a sort of autobiography-cum-memoir-cum reflection… and to be honest, I lost direction, and although yes, I did complete the challenge, it was a very rough piece of work which will need a lot of bashing about, and maybe will emerge as something or some things completely different!

Here is something I wrote last year during the challenge, and I detect a disappointed and frustrated tone in my words:

As part of my failed (probably) attempt to complete 50,000 words in the National Novel Writing Month challenge, I have been writing about my life and family history, through associations with various rivers… and this has led onto not just rivers but seas and other bodies of water too.

I was down in Looe (not literally, only in my research) with Edwin Clogg, an interesting character who during the first world war was a ‘conscie’ – a conscientious objector. I don’t know if it was a religious or personal reason, so I can’t yet tell whether his family supported him, were horrified or ashamed, but I came across a contemporary report in a newspaper from 1915, when Edwin would have been twenty-nine:

Thursday 24 August 1916



Col. L.C. Foster read a telegram at Looe Urban tribunal from Commander-in-Chief emphasising that every effort should be made to secure as many men as possible, and that all men previously rejected should be sent before the Medical Board for re-examination.
Mr. W. McLean was appealed for by Mr. Coleman secretary to the Looe Gas Co). It was stated that Mr. McLean was the only gas fitter left. Five of the company’s men had joined the service. – Col Foster said the matter rested between Mr. McLean and another employee of the company, Nichols. One of the two men would have to join. – The case was adjourned for a month, when both men will be called up, with a view to one being secured for military service.
October 1st (final) was the decision in the case of Mr. Robert Vincent, who had been granted time at a previous sitting on account of his wife’s illness.
An application was made for Mr. R.Wickett, slaughter man and cowman employed by Mr. Broad. – Mr. Broad said Wickett’s removal would entirely disorganize his business; he was the only help in his shop and on the land, – Sept 15th (final) was the decision.
Mr. Edwin Clogg was appealed on conscientious grounds and business hardship, was granted two months to arrange his business affairs, and passed for non-combatant service.
Exemption, whilst in his present occupation was granted to Mr. Richard Pearce, shipwright and boat builder.

It was interesting to see how these boards, or commissions, or courts had to consider different appeals, from the compassionate – Mr Vincent, practical – Mr Wickett and Mr McClean, exemption – Mr Pearce, and conscience – Edwin.

It struck me how difficult it must have been for some men to have joined up, for example, how could Farmer broad replace his slaughter-man? It is a heavy job, dealing with the  stock, doing the deed – which is an expert job, lifting and carrying carcasses? A woman or young boy couldn’t do it, an old man might struggle, and would there be any of these free to take on the job? In a company of seven working men and five of them already gone, how could it survive with just one man? In a job which needed expertise, experience and I would guess a lot of physical strength?

In small communities, the impact of losing most able-bodied men must have been immense; I’m sure many companies foundered and failed, and many people faced hardship without income and with maybe other members of the family away actually fighting. Edwin wasn’t married, I don’t know what his ‘business hardship’ was… I guess it was the family greengrocer/grocer business, and I don’t know if his brothers served or if they too were objectors; however compared to a slaughter-man or gas fitter, being a grocer is hardly grounds to object and in a way I’m surprised he mentioned it… but here am I, looking at the life of a man a hundred years ago, and I only know the tiniest bit about him.

My featured image is of Cornwall, but not Looe… it’s Fowey

A thing happened in 1667…

I’ve always been interested in history, enjoyed it at school and went on to do A-level history; I did a degree in History and English, and have continued to read about past events, visit sites of historical interest, watch and listen to programmes about the events which happened before I was born, or may parents, way back to the earliest human times. Obviously there are periods in history I know more about, but in general I would say that I pretty much know the course of the history of our country. There are some periods I never studied at school or for my degree – from about C13-C18 I have only a patchy knowledge, but in general (or for the purpose of the pub quiz!) I am OK on the main outline.

I guess I might possibly have heard of The Battle of Medway, but I would have to have a bit of a think to remember where the Medway ( in Kent) actually was, where it rose and where it entered the sea. As for when the battle took place, or who was involved in it, I am very ashamed to say I just had no idea. I might have guessed we fought against the French – wrong, I might have guessed it was in roughly the Tudor period – wrong, I would almost definitely have guessed that we won – resoundingly wrong!

The Battle of The Medway is also known as ‘The Dutch Raid’, and that gives you a great clue about who was attacking us! In the Netherlands it is called ‘Tocht naar Chatham’ – The Battle of Chatham, it took place in 1667 and it could be called one of the greatest fails in our naval history. The River Medway became a river of fire!

We have very dear friends in the Netherlands and we’ve always felt very at home there and feel that the Dutch people we have met are very similar in many ways to us. I knew that the Dutch Prince William of Orange became our King William III, and Vermuyden was erroneously supposed to have been responsible for drainage in the East Anglian fens, so I thought we had always had a peaceful relationship – not so! Four, yes four Anglo-Dutch Wars:

  • 1652–1654 – First Anglo-Dutch War
  • 1665–1667 – Second Anglo-Dutch War
  • 1672–1674 – Third Anglo-Dutch War
  • 1781–1784 – Fourth Anglo-Dutch War

In 1667 the Dutch captured a fort at Sheerness and then sailed up the Medway to Chatham, where they attacked the English fleet, captured England’s flagship the Royal Charles, and burned several other ships. Our Navy took defensive action by sinking about thirty more ships!! Military action saved the day, but the Dutch sailed away the victors! One result was that after that there was huge financial investment in the English navy, which became one of, if not the most powerful in the world.

In reading up about The Battle of The Medway, it’s been a puzzle to me, and to many other writers and reporters (reporters of the events to commemorate the event) that the battle is so unknown. Several people have written that it’s typical of ‘us’ to brag about our triumphs but to forget all about our defeats – well, I refute that. There is still hot debate about the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Invasion or the Norman Conquest, and even more about the events surrounding Dunkirk!

If you are in the Medway area – here are some links to events there:

This week’s assignment…

I’ve mentioned before that I run several writing groups (creative writing and family history writing) and the sessions follow a similar plan; before refreshments we talk about what we have been doing, any news (from me it’s things like competitions, courses, articles/programmes/broadcasts of interest etc) and then I lead a discussion some aspect of writing – it might be characters, beginnings and endings, persuasive writing, using a true story to create fiction – all sorts of things – and sometimes it strays way away from what I planned, which is fine and exciting! From that I make a suggestion of what people might want to write for next time, but suggestion is all it is! I just want people to get writing, I’m delighted with whatever they produce, and this isn’t school homework – sticking to the point is not the point! After the break we share what we have written from last time – some people are really ‘good’ and have worked on the particular topic I suggested, others have gone wild (well, sort of!) and written something else. I hope no-one feels guilty when they don’t manage to write anything new and bring something they wrote before – it’s about sharing what’s written, giving yourself some objectivity as you read it to others, and receiving comments, suggestions, praise, and occasionally, kindly criticism.

I also belong to a writing group where we agree a topic and write to it and share our work the following time we meet. We have had some curious subjects to write about, most of which i have shared here, including ‘Biscuits’ and ‘Death’… – not at the same time, although maybe i should suggest ‘Death of the Biscuit’, ‘Biscuit Deaths’, ‘Death and the Biscuit’… the possibilities are endless and already I have ideas springing into my mind.

The previous time we met the topic set was ‘ Afloat’, or something to do with being on water, being at sea, boats, watery things in general. A most agreeable topic to me as I spent most of my childhood being on or in water, feeling at times like Ratty in Wind in the Willows:

“And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!”
“By it and with it and on it and in it,” said the Rat. “It’s brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and (naturally) washing. It’s my world, and I don’t want any other. What it hasn’t got is not worth having, and what it doesn’t know is not worth knowing. Lord! the times we’ve had together! Whether in winter or summer, spring or autumn, it’s always got its fun and its excitements.

So my thoughts were buzzing, but other ideas sprang into my mind, a mixture of actual experiences (sailing round Puget Sound with dear friends on their little yacht) things I’s been told (experiences of another friend, a Dutchman  who lived on a canal boat in Amsterdam for several years) and things I had read about, particular the first ever Dick Francis book I heard first on radio and then read about the main character waking up on a boat, kidnapped, although he has no memory of it – the book may have been ‘Risk’, but I’m not sure! it’s that opening scenario of waking below decks on a boat and not knowing where you are or how you got there which triggered some thoughts…

I will share the story I eventually wrote – as usual, I find it difficult to contain my ideas within a short story, and I have a feeling this will lead onto something else!!



Uphill floods remembered, Hamwick flood imagined!

What a coincidence! Just when I included references to a flood/storm surge maybe caused by an earthquake, look what is featured in our village magazine!

… and if you want to read about my imagined flood of the small port of Hamwick in 1931, here’s a link to my ebook:

Aunty’s Hat

Last year, when I undertook the challenge to write 50,000 words of a new book in the month of November, the National Novel Writing Month, I was struggling with several other projects at the same time. I did manage to complete the undertaking, but it was hard, very hard, and a lot of it was rushed and if it is to be used in anything else, will need a lot of work.

For quite a while I had been pondering on writing about my life stories, how to do it, and how to do it imaginatively. I hadn’t then, last October come across the term ‘creative non-fiction’, but that was what I was trying to do. For some reason, and I don’t quite remember why, I chose not to name myself or my family, so I was ‘the child’, ‘the girl’, ‘the oldest child/girl’ and my sister became the younger child/girl in the stories. I think maybe I was trying to write in an objective way so that I didn’t fall into the trap of ‘and then I did this, and then I did that, and my dad said to me etc…’

In my writing group yesterday, i shared a small section of it – the first time I’d looked at it since November, too busy writing my latest novel, Earthquake! it needs some tweaking and work, but here is a first draft:

The younger child acquired a hat from someone’s aunt, and it was always known as ‘Aunty’s Hat’ and shared among her and her friends. The family had moved away from The River, to the west, to a seaside town, a seaside which was along the coast from mighty rivers, carrying sediment and mud and depositing it on the beach. Once, when the level of the sea was different, here had been marshes between what was now the shoreline and far away across the now channel to the distant cliffs; people had wandered across and about, hunting, gathering, leaving footprints forever on the muddy shore.
The younger child and her friend, went back to her home town, and to The River. After a jolly evening out with friends,  she and her friend, wearing Aunty’s Hat of course,  went down to The River; they didn’t go to the lock where her father in distant times caught the mighty pike on the morning of his leaving for war, nor the place where the Swim Through the City finished. They went upstream, beyond Darwin College Bridge, beyond the mill, and to Coe Fen, opposite Sheep’s Green. There, late at night, after the pubs and clubs had shut, they decided to swim, the two girls, not the boy friends who were with them.
The boys, being gentlemen, turned away as the girls undressed; the girls took off their clothes, not at the time realising that as the cars drove along the road,  their headlights illuminated them. They laughed a lot at this later.
Stripped, they ran barefoot across the grass and dived into the river… and it was only later after their swim they realised they no longer had Aunty’s Hat. They had dived in, one of them wearing it, and the hat had floated away, and no doubt quietly drowned.

By the way, my featured image is not of The River, it is of a river near where I love now!

My latest novel: