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Canvey flood victims, their final resting place found
6:30am Monday 21st October 2013 in Local News
THOUSANDS of homes were destroyed, dozens of lives were lost and a community was torn apart when the full force of the North Sea came crashing over Canvey in 1953.
The horrors of that fateful night will forever be embedded in the memories of those who survived the tragedy.
But when the water washed away, many were too traumatised to speak of what happened.
The hardy British spirit of make do and carry on – perfected all too well during the Second World War – prevailed, so many stories of the flood were lost in the aftermath.
For many, it was just too difficult to talk about. For others the priority had to be rebuilding what had been destroyed.
As a result, many families never learned where their lost relatives were finally laid to rest.
Six decades on, however, some families have been given a glimmer of hope of finding out by volunteers at the Canvey Community Archive.
The Archive’s work has led to the discovery 23 victims were buried at Jotmans Cemetery, Benfleet.
Following the discovery, a plaque is to be put up at the cemetery in memory of the victims.
Christopher Starling, 63, now lives overseas, but at the time of the flood, lived in Whernside Avenue, Canvey.
He lost his mother, Violet, and brother Leonard in the flood, but had never known where they were buried.
He said: “I only found out they were buried there last week, so it is all fairly new to me.
“I knew my father had purchased a plot and couldn’t afford a headstone, but I never knew where, because he didn’t speak of it.
“I suppose that was not too untypical of the time, especially as it was not too long after the war. We woke up to 2ft of water in the house, so my father got me, my brother, my mother and the next-door neighbour on the roof.
We were there for hours – so long our neighbour died from exposure.
“When rescue came, my brother and mother were unconscious, so they were put on the boat first, but the boat was moored too tightly and my mother’s neckwas broken as the tide rose.
“I never found out what happened to my brother. I was devastated, especially for my father, because I was too young for him to talk to about it.”
The sheer magnitude of the event meant many of the victims were buried in communal graves.
Mr Starling added: “I was a bit astonished – ashamed even, for Britain – to learn now that people were buried in paupers’ graves after the flood.
“Members of numerous families ended up being buried together in the communal graves, so I think a lot of people like me will have no idea they could have relatives buried there.
“Putting a memorial up is such a good idea, as many people do not have headstone. We should remember them in some way.”
Andrew Manser’s family was torn apart when three of his brothers, Keith, Gordon and Alan, drowned in the tragedy.
They were just five, four and two.
Mr Manser, 71, was one of nine children, and also now lives on the continent.
He said: “My father refused to let us talk about it, I suppose because it was so painful.
“It is strange that me and my siblings share these horrible memories and it is only recently we have been able to talk about them.
“I remember everything.
Gordon and Alan drowned in their pram. To get out of the water, my father smashed a hole through the roof of the house and we all climbed on top of it and perched on the wooden beams.
“It was pitch black, no one could see anything and during the night, we just heard this horrible crack, a huge splash and a great bellow, as Keith had fallen in through the roof.
“By the time my brother located him in the darkness and pulled him from the water he was gone. I’ll never forget that sound.
“It’s a wonderful gesture to get a plaque put up. It was one of Britain’s worst 20- th-century catastrophes and it is important for it to be remembered.”
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