Friday, April 15, 2005

History Friday: Hands Across The Ocean (Literally)

 Posted by Hello

Brancaster Staithe, Norfolk Coast, England
I feel that there has been a bickering animosity creep into my posting and commenting recently and that Transatlantic relations are growing strained and annoying. Therefore, in an effort to make amends I thought I would step aside from the historical events of great import covered in much greater depth elsewhere and recall a story of intimate interest to both East Anglians and (in the words of my high school song) Pilgrim Fathers' Sons:

April, 15th 1953: Britain honours American hero
"Reis Leming, a 22-year-old US airman stationed in Britain, has been presented with the George Medal. He rescued 27 people in East Anglia during the winter floods. The award, the first given to a foreigner during peacetime, was presented by Home Secretary Sir David Maxwell Fyfe.

The night of 31 January 1953 will never be forgotten by those who survived it. The combined effects of hurricane force winds and a high tide took sea levels to eight feet above their predicted levels.

Mr Leming was stationed at a US airbase at Sculthorpe when the tempest hit nearby Hunstanton*. He ventured out alone on a small rubber raft in the pitch black and managed to save some of those clinging onto rooftops. Many of those trapped by the floods were families of American servicemen living off base in South Beach Road.

After several hours in the raging storm he himself collapsed with severe hypothermia." (*Pronounced "Hun'stun")

Good job, Reis. The coastline of East Anglia, being mostly low lying beach and marsh backed my soft dunes and low-lying fenland is breathtakingly beautiful and at the same time a spectacularly terrible place to build. "What were my ancestors thinking?" I often ask myself when I see a road crumbling into nothingness, or the landward side of a coastal village suddenly become beachfront property. While serving with a helicopter squadron in the 1970s my dad was called upon to stem the breach with sand bags and mud walls on more than one occasion but nothing on the scale of 1953. Still, when your neighbour's house falls in the ocean its probably not a good idea to lay that new patio.

The big storm of 1953 was supposed to be a 250 year event; a freak occurence. However, with the change in global climate and the (sad but wise) decision of the British government not to enhance existing coastal defences along the North Sea in order to avoid extrapolating environmental damage further along the shoreline I suspect that the odd niche we humans have carved out of sand, peat, and marram grass will one day be under water. Go see it while you can; it is simple but it is breathtakingly, achingly, yearningly beautiful.


Debbie said...

Sooo beautiful!

weasel said...

Debbie, I bet Mondale has reams of photos and a book or two about our humble region....

Debbie said...

You are correct!
He has pics of Norfolk around the classroom and he shares the best stories about the place with such glee.
He also answers all my questions about his hometown.
"Hey A*** I bet there aren't any Puerto Ricans in Norfolk."
(Laughing) "No."
"I bet you that I am the only Puerto
Rican you know, A***."
"No! Well....yeah" (admits hesistantly)
Always loved the Brits. First crush Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins Boy was I upset when I found out he wasn't British.
A*** has told me many a story and answers all my questions with such patience.
Goes on an on about the food.
Chip shop
Come on!
Norfolk is beautiful. Well at least what I've seen in photos