It is more than 70 years since Britain experienced its worst flooding in recorded history.
It was on the night of Saturday, January 31, 1953, that a "perfect storm" of high winds and a record tidal surge in the North Sea brought disaster along the entire east coast of the UK and much of Kent.
Sea water breached the limited coastal defences in 1,200 places and flooded towns and fields, claiming the lives of hundreds of people as well as those of thousands of sheep and cattle.
The first warning of the impending disaster had come at 3pm when the River Tees overflowed its banks and Middlesbrough in Yorkshire began to flood.
The surge of water then moved progressively down the coast reaching King's Lynn at 6.15pm, Great Yarmouth at 9pm and Canvey Island in Essex, just across the Thames Estuary from Kent, at half past midnight.
The Kent coast itself was hammered throughout the night and again the next day. Sheerness, Seasalter, Whitstable, Herne Bay, Margate and Deal were among the worst-hit areas.
Even inland towns such as Maidstone did not escape the flooding, as water surged up the River Medway and poured into the High Street.
It was a time of great catastrophe with many families losing their homes and possessions, and many farmers losing their entre livestock herds.
But it was also a time of great resilience as Britons once again invoked the Dunkirk Spirit – then not such a distant memory - and rallied around to rescue marooned neighbours, offer shelter to those made homeless, and food and clothing to those without.
All the emergency services and the Armed Services as well as many civilian contingents such as Chatham's dockyard workers were involved in the rescue and recovery operation which went on for weeks afterwards.
It was a sad start to the reign of the new young Queen Elizabeth who had come to the throne only 11 months before and had not yet enjoyed her coronation.
In the weeks that followed the disaster, she visited many of the places that had been flooded, including Bexley and Gravesend.
Meteorologists say the tidal surge was caused by a deep depression that had begun to develop on Friday, the day before, 250 miles north of the Hebrides. Winds quickly reached 50mph.
By Saturday morning the depression had passed over Orkney and Shetland and plunged into the North Sea, with winds now reaching 110mph whipping up a huge surge of water.
As the surge moved down the coast, the narrowing width of the sea between England and Europe caused wind speeds to rise still further, reaching 175mph, and the water surge to reach 12ft.
It coincided with a period of high spring tides and excessive river discharges into the sea following a bout of prolonged heavy rainfall.
The scale of the event was described as a one-in-1,000-year disaster.
A total of 326 people lost their lives on shore in Britain (19 in Scotland and 307 in England), mainly in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.
A further 177 Britons lost their lives at sea in fishing boats and small vessels, and another 121 died when the Scottish ferry the Princess Victoria foundered.
Only 44 of its passengers and crew could be rescued.
Despite the dreadful loss of life, Britain was luckier than others.
The flood surge also wreaked havoc along the European coast with low-lying Holland the worst affected. There the death toll was recorded as 1,836. Belgium lost 28 people.
The Isle of Sheppey was cut off from the mainland for 10 days by the flooding. The gale had whipped the sea into such a frenzy that the flood defences at West Minster, Cheyney Rock, Scrapsgate, Queenborough, Rushenden and Warden were all breached.
The entire village of West Minster was flooded when water gushed through two holes 30ft-wide.
On Sheppey, no human lives were lost but cattle and sheep drowned in their hundreds and thousands of homes flooded.
The old Kingsferry Bridge was marooned in an expanse of water four-miles wide.
Such was the ferocity of wind and water that the wartime submarine HMS Sirdar, which was undergoing repairs in dry dock at the Royal Naval Dockyard at Sheerness, sank.
The immense surge of water forced the dock gates open and flooded the basin where she was held.
Fortunately, the Navy was able later to re-float her and she returned to service.
The corvette HMS Berkeley Castle also in dry dock was not so lucky. She was lifted off her blocks by the flood water and capsized.
It was decided it was not economic to repair her and she was scrapped soon after.
The damage to Sheerness Dockyard was estimated at £1.5million and was described at the time as the “worst peacetime catastrophe”.
Power had failed on the Island and all road and rail communications were under water and telephone lines were down.
The Royal Navy delivered Islanders with essential supplies, ferrying them in from Chatham dockyard to Sheerness.
Rest centres were set up at the Welfare Clinic in Invicta Road, at Sheerness Technical Institute and at Halfway, where evacuees were given blankets, clothing and hot meals, after temporary generators were shipped in.
More than 30 people, suffering from exposure, were treated at Sheppey General Hospital.
Eventually, after 10 days, Royal Navy explosive experts blasted debris clear of Ferry Road and railway line, and cut narrow gaps into the bank to drain flood water and communication with the mainland was re-established.
Years later, Bredgar resident Joyce Whitnell recalled how she and her husband Jack had been among the last people to leave the Island and get back over to the mainland before the bridge was flooded.
The couple who were living in Ufton Lane, Sittingbourne, at the time and had gone over to Sheerness for a performance of her husband’s band, The Jack Whitnell Quartet, at the Wheatsheaf Hall in the High Street.
Mrs Whitnell, who had been 24 at the time, said: "We left the hall as soon as we had packed up.
"The shows always finished at 11.45pm and by the time we got away it was about 12.30am.
"As we came back over the old bridge the water was over the wheels of the car – it was our very first car, a little Austin."
She said: "When we left, we didn’t really know anything about it. We realised when there was all this water that it wasn’t normal – but we didn’t know the full extent of it until the next morning when we found out what had happened and how lucky we had been.
“I think the full force hit between 12.30am and 1am, so we were really close to it.
“There were an awful lot of animals drowned and we certainly would have been stranded.”
Cathie Lewis, of Holm Place Farm, Halfway, was just 10. She recalled the terrible gales and how sheep caught in a gateway near the old bridge later washed up dead at Whitstable.
She said: “In Halfway Road, the water came up to the lodge at Sheppey Court."
But she said: “Amazingly the milkmen were still delivering to customers in Sheerness.
“In some roads – Clyde Street and Unity Street – they used the boats from the boating lake in Sheerness to get up the waterlogged streets and people would lower their buckets to get their milk.
“Some of my father’s cattle were stranded on the base of a straw stack.
“The cowman rowed out to them and tempted them to follow with a bale of hay in the stern of the boat.
“They swam to safety on higher ground behind Sheppey Court."
She said: “A Royal Navy lorry was often on standby at the lodge gate to take people into Sheerness.
“Some of us went to stay with friends and relatives in Sittingbourne so that we didn’t miss our schooling. We were taken from the dockyard in a barge to Chatham Dockyard and collected from there.”
On January 31, 1953, Roy Cunliffe was enjoying a party with family and friends to celebrate his 21st birthday.
He said: "It certainly turned out to be an unforgettable night!
"Our house was at the top end of the High Street, so we copped it from both the canal and the sea."
He said: "The party was in full swing and we had no idea how bad conditions were outside until the flood waters whooshed in. Everyone rallied to help move furniture, including a piano, into upstairs rooms.
"That piano was my mother's pride and joy and had to be saved!"
Mr Cunliffe recalled that in the following week teams of men formed "sandbag squads" and others took out rowing boats to deliver food and water to people marooned in their bedrooms.
"It was quite a sight to see boats being rowed down Clyde Street, James Street and Delamark Road. People lowered baskets from the top windows to take in supplies.
"What struck me was the community spirit and the resilience of flood victims to accept their lot," he said.
"By comparison I was pampered. Somehow my mother managed to produce marvellous meals cooked on a single gas ring in her bedroom.
"We had people camping out upstairs – party guests who couldn't return to their own flooded homes."
On that first night, 25 passengers on an overnight M&D coach from Victoria to Sheerness found their vehicle surrounded by onrushing seawater as they approached the Kingsferry Bridge at around 1.30am.
They were trapped in the coach for seven hours until eventually rescued by an amphibious craft sent out from Faversham.
The driver was Spencer Dalton who later told his story to the Sheerness Times Guardian.
Mr Dalton, of Railway Road, Sheerness, realised the narrow road ahead was flooded.
As he prepared to turn back, the coach became engulfed as seawater swamped the marshes.
He said: "It all happened in a few moments.
“I realised what danger we were in, but there was no chance of doing anything.
“The water rose too quickly and we were cut off on all sides at once."
He said: “I couldn’t leave my cabin so as the water level rose higher and higher inside.
"I crouched on the steering wheel.
“I flashed signals with my torch and the passengers shouted or whistled from time to time.
“The cold was my worst trouble.
“There was nothing to do but wait and wait, getting more and more frozen and hungry."
He said: "We watched the carcasses of poor drowned cattle floating past and wondered if the bus was going to be swept away, too.
“The gale and water kept crashing against her, rocking her like a ship at anchor.”
Two motorcyclists, whose machines were swept away as they dismounted, were near enough to scramble on board the bus.
A taxi had also been caught in the flood waters.
Its driver, together with a stranded police officer, joined the passengers.
Mr Dalton said: “They were rather better off inside than I was.
“They told me afterwards that it was quite warm.
“Even when they had to climb on to the backs of the seats and crouch under the luggage racks they could make themselves comfortable by laying the cushions across to perch on.
“We had one stroke of luck. The lights stayed on.
“Even when waves began to lap around the roof outside, everyone kept remarkably calm."
He said: “Soon after daylight, at about 8am, we were all thankful to see the Navy coming to our rescue.
“We were taken off, five or six at a time, the women going first.”
Mr Dalton, like all good captains, was the last to leave his “ship”.
All were taken to Sittingbourne Hospital, but were allowed to leave later.
The oldest resident at West Minster was 90-year-old Mr Miles, who was blind and an invalid sleeping in a downstairs room. He had to be rescued by relatives.
Linda Luxon, was a six-year-old in West Minster at the time. She later recalled: “I’d had my birthday party the day before and remember begging my parents to save my new teddy bear, which they did.
"But my screams were nothing compared to my uncle who had been sleeping on a makeshift bed in a downstairs room.
“He had been a prisoner-of-war in the infamous Japanese Changi gaol in Singapore and still had nightmares about his treatment there.
"Waking in the dark and tipping into three feet of water from a sodden mattress made him hysterical.”
Margaret Sewell, of Coronation Road, Sheerness, had just returned home from hospital with her husband Roy following the birth of their two-week-old son Peter when the flood struck.
She said: "Everything was ruined – clothes, pram, crib, food –everything!
“We were devastated. I had to be piggy-backed to safety with Roy following on with anything at all which could be salvaged. What a homecoming!”
Despite the disaster there was still humour. Mrs Sewell said: "The funniest sight was of a tiny mouse sailing high and dry in a baby’s potty.”
Geoff Chesson was a 17-year-old milkman at the time, He said: “We delivered milk from a lorry on that day and also used paddle boats taken from the boating pool.
"The milk was pulled up by ropes and in baskets by the people cooped up in their bedrooms in Clyde Street and James Street.”
One of the great fears was water contamination and the possibility of an outbreak of typhoid or cholera.
So fresh supplies were brought in by the 18th Water Transport Royal Army Service Corps, stationed at Sheerness.
Each household was rationed to one gallon a day, whether from the carriers, standpipes in the road or from the pumping station in Trinity Road.
Farmers at Harty suffered terrible losses. They awoke to the sight of bloated, dead cattle caught up on fences.
At Capel Hill, the warnings had come quickly enough for Marian Studd to move stock to higher ground.
But she said: “Others were not so lucky. The sea defences were breached at Warden, and the marshes from Capel Fleet were soon under water.”
She added: “It was a terrible time. We could do nothing with the dead cattle until the water went down.”
Airmen from RAF West Malling were involved in airlifting thousands of sandbags to the Isle of Sheppey in the wake of the disaster.
Operation King Canute swung into operation as dawn broke on Monday, February 2, 1953, to help the effort to plug holes in the Sheppey’s sea defences.
Throughout the day an RAF four-engine Hastings transport plane made sorties to the Island to drop hundreds of bales of the bags on to a football pitch at Halfway.
The drops were made with the help of a RAF unit from Leysdown, which marked out drop zones and communicated with the aircraft with Aldis lamps and flares.
Soldiers from a Royal Army Service Corps Air Despatch Company assisted the operation, sorting and baling the sacks as they arrived at West Malling after they were donated by local breweries, cement works and other businesses.
The bags were distributed by the civil authorities, filled with sand and used to make temporary repairs to the sea wall.
Princess Marina, the Duchess of Kent, subsequently visited Sheppey to help boost morale and said she was amazed at the courage and tenacity of victims and helpers.
Marjorie Davies, of Horsham Lane, Upchurch, near Sittingbourne, related her experiences of the flood to the Sittingbourne News.
She said: “I was listening to the radio at about 11am and heard that a ferry (the Queen Victoria) had sunk in the Irish Sea and there were floods at Canvey Island in Essex, so I tried to get to my father’s cow shed at Bayford Farm, up the road in Poot Lane.
“But there was seaweed and water across the lane and I had to turn back.
"We then found out that my father, Charles Barling, was utterly distraught because all 19 cows in the shed had been washed away and drowned as the sea wall had been breached at nearby Colts Field and water was lapping over the sea defences as well.”
She added: “Everyone was put out of work overnight and my father’s life’s work had gone. We couldn’t get to the dead animals for a fortnight due to all the flooded fields.”
On the Isle of Grain, water poured over the sea wall and into the new oil refinery, and even workers at Littlebrook Power Station at Dartford found themselves surrounded by water.
Compared to other parts of the Kent, the Medway Towns escaped fairly lightly, but the low-lying areas in Rochester, Chatham and Strood were hit hard.
In Strood, Canal Road and the High Street were soon under water, as was the Winget factory in Commercial Road.
In Rochester, the Style and Winch mineral water factory at Acorn Wharf flooded as did the Meux brewery at Old Foundry Wharf. Their empty casks were seen floating away.
The Rochester Math School's cricket field was submerged as was the old swimming baths in the Esplanade.
The water lapped around the Casino ice skating rink and flooded classrooms at the St Nicholas Girls School in Corporation Street.
In Chatham, the Empire Theatre was flooded, as were many shops in Medway Street and Military Road. The waterline came to within a few yards of the Town Hall.
In a scene reminiscent of Whisky Galore, the bonded warehouse at Curtis Wharf was inundated with floodwater, and bottles of whisky and gin were seen floating out towards the river.
In Gillingham, homes in Pier Road were flooded and in nearby Rainham, the sewage works at Motney Hill was submerged.
There was one indirect fatality.
Charles Maynard, 54, from Bromley, was a passenger in a lorry returning to Grain from the sea wall at Stoke, where he had been helping to repair the breach caused by the flood.
The lorry was driven by James Poole, of Luton Road, Chatham, who tried to apply the brakes as the lorry came up to a bus at the back of a stationary line of traffic. The brakes failed.
Mr Poole steered the vehicle to the side of the road to avoid a collision, but floodwaters prevented him from seeing a ditch that was now in his path.
The lorry overturned and Mr Maynard became trapped under the water. He drowned.
Another flood-related accident involved a 29-ton naval landing craft that was being transported by road from Scotland to Sheppey to help with the flood relief.
Its route took the transporter carrying the craft down Station Road into Chatham were it collided with a bus near the viaduct. Seven passengers on board the bus were injured.
The holiday village of Seasalter with its wooden chalets and rows of caravans was particularly hard hit.
Many of the wooden bungalows were reduced to matchwood and the main road was buried under a mass of shingle swept up by the tide.
Hundreds of holiday caravans were simply washed away. Fortunately it was the winter season and they had been largely unoccupied. Seasalter golf course was converted into a vast inland sea in which the club house roof could just be seen.
The situation in Whitstable was more serious. Many families had perilous escapes from the incoming flood water. Some 600 people were initially trapped in the upstairs or on the roof of their homes and had to be rescued.
Water poured through Wave Crest and West Beach, again crushing many timber buildings. Side streets were quickly inundated and a vast lake formed around the golf course, with neighbouring properties under six feet of water.
A total of 2,000 people were made homeless in the town.
Whitstable's two cinemas, its Post Office, Police Station and main street shops were all flooded, with properties in Nelson Road particularly badly affected.
Year later, the Kentish Gazette recorded some of their town's experiences, with Stewart Tillley and his sister Betty Marchant remembering how they had still managed to enjoy their Sunday lunch – cooked by their aunt wearing Wellington boots – even after they were forced out of their own home.
Mrs Marchant, who was 16 and working for a local building firm at the time, said she had an inkling of the problems to come the day before as she struggled against strong winds in the town on her way home to Woodlawn Street.
The family went to bed as usual, but were woken just before midnight by neighbour Bill Kelsey banging on their door.
She said: "I looked out of the window and I could see water swirling in the road.
"I don't remember being frightened, I just got up and got on with it."
Mrs Marchant said: "We were rushing around and moving furniture and I have a clear memory of my youngest brother, Barry, who was 13, spread-eagled against the front door with the doormat using it to try and stop the water coming in.
"My mother told him in no uncertain terms to come and do something more useful, but when he moved more water came in with a rush, so he had obviously been holding some of it back."
After moving as many of their possessions to safety as they could, the family retreated to a relative in Sydenham Street.
They were able to return home a few days later, when the reality of the situation struck home. Mrs Marchant said: "There was horrible silty stuff everywhere," she said. "It was cold, wet and miserable. I remember how many hose-pipes there were around the town pumping the water away.
"And whenever I see the picture of the car flooded in Island Wall it brings everything back because that was my boss's car."
She said: "We were busy at work for months after because there was so much clearing up and renovating to be done."
Her brother, Mr Tilley, said the situation had not seemed that dramatic at the time.
He said: "It wasn't that long after the end of the war so we had got used to these experiences."
He said: "I remember going out and walking along the brick walls of gardens to get to Sydenham Street to warn people there about the flood coming through.
"And when we got to my aunt's later there was the luxury of hot water bottles in bed."
He said: "As the oven was on legs we still had Sunday lunch even though the water had started coming in to her house as well!"
Mr Tilley, 15 at the time, remembered most the terrible smell when they returned home, and seeing a host of worms, oysters and slime everywhere.
He said: "The most dramatic thing was seeing the depth of the flooding in Nelson Road and the devastation in Sea Wall."
The old Neptune Inn on the beach had the ground floor swept out, while the upper storey miraculously remained on its timber uprights.
Oyster baskets were washed out of the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company’s store at Horsebridge.
Dogs chained to their kennels for the night perished and cats took refuge in trees.
Although there was no human loss of life, there were some narrow escapes.
Beryl Waters, the licensee of the Pearson’s Arms, later recalled: “The water came over like a tidal wave – a solid mass went over the top of the house. I thought we had had it.”
There were some nail-biting rescues of nine people trapped in bungalows in Nelson Road area.
In freezing conditions, a rescue party in two rowing boats battled against the strong currents to reach the bungalows and rescue the occupants.
One elderly couple, Mr and Mrs Maylam, of Collingwood Road, were found standing on the draining board of their kitchen sink, up to their chests in water.
They were dragged out through a narrow gap left in the window.
The first light of Sunday morning revealed a scene of absolute devastation at Herne Bay.
The whole length of the promenade from Kings Hall to Hampton was covered by thousands of tons of shingle.
At the Pier Head, the road was further blocked by a four-foot high barrier of smashed rowing boats, crumbled concrete posts and sand.
The newly open public toilets were destroyed.
Large sections of the railway line to Thanet were flooded with miles of track between Faversham and Birchington simply swept away.
Fortunately no lives were lost in Herne Bay, but homes and businesses were seriously affected and not just by flooding.
A contemporaneous news report said: "By midnight the crash of falling glass and masonry was added to the uproar as the windows of shops along the seafront succumbed to the pressure of the wind.”
By 2am, the sea water had crossed the High Street and poured in a torrent into the lower part of Richmond Street and then to the Memorial Park, which was turned into a lake.
Basements were flooded, shops and their contents ruined.
The WVS, fresh from their Second World War action, were soon serving food and drinks and supplying those in need with fresh bedding and clothes.
The British Legion and Red Cross also stepped in to offer assistance.
Rowing boats were used to rescue people from the upper floors of the houses and take them to safety.
The town lost all its electricity and power was not restored for a week.
The damaged rail lines were not fully repaired until May, four months later.
In Deal, the flood water filled the moat of the town's castle for the first time in hundreds of years.
That week's East Kent Mercury talked of a "sea invasion" and reported: "Water poured like mountain streams down every side street off the seafront.
"As for the beach itself, there was more in the roads and gardens than on the beach itself."
Rosemary Schofield was 23 at the time and had an 11-month-old son. She recalled the “dreadful storm” in which the sea poured over the promenade for four hours.
Her husband, Edward Schofield, was one of 300 Royal Marines immediately sent to Whitstable to help.
She said: "They were all mustered on the parade ground at 5am. They didn’t come back until about 10pm."
She said: "They were up to their waists in water putting out sandbags. They were absolutely soaked right through.
“We didn’t have any central heating and I had to keep the fire going all night to dry his clothes. They must have been out there every day for about three days.”
Despite the severity of the situation, Mrs Schofield recalled that there were still some things to laugh about.
She said: "One of them came on parade late wearing his wife’s wellies on and the whole parade ground burst out laughing.
"The Regimental Sergeant Major Tom Franks nearly collapsed he was so cross!"
Mr and Mrs Robert Smith were the resident caretakers at South London Family Camp in north Deal at the time.
Initially stuck in their home, they had to wait until Monday, when the floodwater receded slightly to be rescued by the farmer at Lodge Farm in his horse and cart.
The houses on Enfield Road were under 18in of water, with the north Deal prefabs and houses in The Marina flooded up to floor level.
Large chunks of the promenade were pulled up and swept across the road and coping-stones from the seawall were dislodged.
North of the coastguard station, 20ft of the Marina footpath disappeared leaving a deep and dangerous cavity.
Shops on Deal High Street between the traffic lights and Sondes Road were flooded and at Downs Court Farm in Sandwich, alderman Henry Burch lost 187 sheep and 672 poultry birds when the bank of the Stour was breached in two places.
Sea water covered 7,000 acres of arable land, leaving them unsuitable for cultivation for five years.
Some areas, including the main Deal-Sandwich Road remained under water till February 13. Even then, the road was in need of serious repair and remained closed for several more weeks.
The town later received some help from the hastily set up Lord Mayor's National Flood and Tempest Distress Fund, which raised and distributed more than £6m to the flood-hit areas.
The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, sent his sympathies to the town and praised the spirit of the townspeople.
Margate also took a terrific pounding from the storm.
The sea wall held for the most part, but some gaps were torn in a number of places allowing the swirling waters to gush into the streets.
The town lost its power, but the Dreamland Amusement Park had its own generator and many people gathered there and partied through the night ass the water swirled along the seafront.
Both Cliftonville Lido and Westbrook Pavilion suffered great damage.
Chunks of reinforced concrete, some weighing as much as two tons, were ripped from the Lido and tossed about by the waves, while the pavilion was split in two.
Just after 10am on Sunday, the lighthouse, which had stood at the end of harbour jetty for 120 years, collapsed into the sea.
Snodland suffered a row of a dozen houses flooded when the River Medway breached it banks.
The Townsend Hook paper mill also saw reels of paper damaged as the stock room flooded, but the main manufacturing building remained dry.
People in Maidstone had good reason to be thankful. Although there was some flooding close to the river, the water arrived gently without the force of the surge seen elsewhere, thanks in part to the lock gates at Allington.
However, the townsfolk were very much involved in responding to the appeal to help flood victims in other parts of the county.
The responsibility for feeding the 25,000 people stranded on Sheppey was given to Mr P.E. Bailey, Maidstone council's food executive officer.
Food was taken to Chatham by road from various wholesalers in Maidstone and from there ferried by the Navy to Sheerness.
People living in Maidstone also donated clothes and blankets for those left homeless.
Within hours of the disaster, piles of clothing were arriving at the Town Hall and council offices.
These were then taken to the Women’s Voluntary Service clearing house for the Maidstone district at Granada Buildings where they were sorted under the direction of Mrs E. A. Mottram, the district organiser.
Supplies of bedding were dispatched daily from Maidstone to a central store at Chatham where they were sorted and distributed to needy areas in other parts of the county.
People in the county town were also very generous when it came to giving money.
Within two weeks of the disaster, the Mayor of Maidstone’s Flood Relief Fund had reached £1,600 – that's about £35,000 in today's money.
Gravesend too saw its share of flooding with both the Northfleet FC ground and the playing field in the Promenade under water. West Street and Gordon Gardens were flooded as was the Ship and Lobster pub at Denton.
The water came for in for an extent of three miles at Higham Marshes, fortunately causing little damage.
Looking back today, it is difficult to understand how people were so caught out by the flooding – with many actually asleep when the water flooded in.
Of course it was an era pre-internet and mobile phones.
There were no local radio stations to sound a warning, television was still in its infancy and few owned a set and most people did not even have a landline telephone.
It was only eight years after the end of the Second World War.
Many food items, including all meats, were still being rationed.
That must have made matters even harder to bear when afterwards food inspectors visited stores affected by the flooding and condemned their stocks.
Following the 1953 floods, it was recommended that a flood-warning organisation be set up, and the Met Office responded by helping establish the Storm Tide Forecasting Service.
The service is based on sets of gauges that measure water levels in 10 coastal areas around England and Wales.
If the sea level is forecast to come close to predefined danger levels an alert is issued, typically 12 hours before the event.
This gives the authorities the time to close flood barriers and initiate emergency procedures.
The UK, Belgium and Holland all embarked on a programme to greatly improve sea defences.
One of the measures was the Thames Barrier project to protect London from a similar flood surge that was eventually opened in May 1984.
In Kent the works included building of new sea walls and the heightening and reinforcing of existing ones, particularly at Seasalter, Whitstable and Sheerness.
A Met Office spokesman said: "The events of 1953 show that severe weather is not a new phenomenon – but as the frequency of severe weather events increases, the Met Office is increasingly well prepared to provide accurate advance warning.
“Climate change is, however, increasing the number of occasions when such warnings may be necessary.”
Fortunately, only one fatality was reported in Kent directly from the flooding – an 81-year-old night watchman drowned at a sluice near Belvedere.
But that night had brought unparalleled damage and immeasurable misery to the Garden of England.