The North Sea flood of 1953


I enjoyed reading Bob Prichard's excellent article on this event in February's Weather, much of it based on John Pollard's 1978 book. There is an earlier book which is also well worth reading: The Great Tide: the story of the flood disaster in Essex by Hilda Grieve, which was published by Essex County Council in 1959. It gives a detailed account in 883 very readable pages, and an internet search may show it is still available from one or two sources.

Hilda Grieve provides a vivid account of the work done by RAF personnel struggling to rebuild the sea defences before the next peak spring tide two weeks later. Early February 1953 was very cold in eastern England, and many of the workers collapsed. We read that Churchill was alerted to the problem; recalling his days as First Lord of the Admiralty, when the RN issued a daily tot of rum to seamen, he ordered that the RAF personnel working on these sea defences should be treated the same way. This seemed to do the trick, but sadly the rum issue was stopped a fortnight later when the repair work was completed. The Meteorological Office came under the Air Ministry in those days; I wonder if any -forecasters received the daily tot of rum in February 1953?

Let me add a personal footnote. For many years I enjoyed submitting questions to the BBC Home Service/Radio 4 programme Round Britain Quiz. One of my questions was inspired by Hilda Grieve's book: When did the Royal Air Force stop issuing a daily tot of rum to serving airmen? Not surprisingly it foxed the clever men on the RBQ panel.