The Great Cley Floods 10
Next to speak at the Flood Thanksgiving Party was a twenty year old man, “Buttercup Joe” Lee,
and he told how he nearly didn’t survive.
“I had been working with my grandfather on his small holding up the Langham Road at Wiveton. It had been quite a windy day, there were squalls of rain and mixed in with it some sleet. The wind was blowing from a northerly direction but nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
“We came home about our usual time somewhere just after four p.m. as the nights got dark quite early still.
“I sat having my tea with my mother and father, Nora and Reggie Lee, when my grandfather came round from next door and said that the little girl from the Swallows had come round and said, 'Uncle Billy, the sea is in the street.' My father and I put on our coats and water boots and went across the green opposite where we own two small marshes and there was a collection of garages, pig houses and the small orchard behind. My father, keeps his coal lorry in one of them.
“There were several pig sties, some of the pigs were in the bays where my father's lorry was and
where he used to store a lot of coal. We went and started to get the pigs on to higher ground, this was to prove rather difficult as a few of the pigs had got young ones. Grandfather and Dad carried a number of pigs in a sack which were put up in the spare bedroom at my Granny’s.
“Previous to this I had walked towards Cley and the wind was as strong as I have ever known the wind to be, I could virtually lay on the wind. I have heard people talk about laying on the wind but this was my first experience of it happening to me. I got to Durrent’s Row and I could see the water
stretching across the marshes towards Wiveton and I knew it was on its way to Newgate.
“I went back to the garages to have a look round to see if there was anything else that could be moved and to my horror in the big garage discovered they had left one old sow. When I went to try and smash the barricade down which grandfather had built I realised that it was strong and securely fixed that the pigs couldn't budge it.
“By this time there was about a foot of water all around me halfway up my Wellington boots. I took
a few steps back and ran at this barricade sideways on, luckily for me it gave way and I sprawled headlong into a foot of water and ended up near the dear old sow. I proceeded to go round her and guide her out of the part of the shed that was open. But she turned and went to the right in the direction of Glandford and then round through a gateway and of course she was going into deeper water. I could hardly run by now as the water was up top of my boots, but I managed to get round her and send her back. She swam and walked whenever she could and was going across The Green towards high ground so I knew she would be safe.
“By this time I was a bit exhausted through trying to run through the water, and also having to contend with the snow and rain coming down by now very fast. I had just purchased some pullets which were £1 each. They were Black Leg Horn and Rhode Island Reds and by now they had been washed off the perches and were floating all around me. Now a chicken will float for quite a while but eventually it will drown as the water eventually wets the down under the feathers and will be pulled
under by its own weight. These were floating quite happily at the moment in the water getting blown about and did look bewildered and wondering what was happening to them, so I started to throw them up onto the top of the smallest garage which I discovered days later, to be 13 foot in height and it was made of wood and corrugated iron.
“To my dismay when the chickens landed on the roof some were being blown off again, back into the water. I continued my task trying to get these 20 to 30 chickens onto the roof. I had succeeded in getting most of them and was going after the last one when there was the most terrific roar I
have ever heard in my life. All I could see when I turned round was water and it seemed to reach from the ground to the sky but of course in reality it didn't. In that split second all I could see was water and the noise was unbelievable. I quickly thought if I run towards the houses to my Grandparents across The Green I wouldn't perhaps make it because I couldn't run for the depth of water had now got deeper. I knew I wouldn't know where the ditch was and if I fell in
that though it was only about a foot deep I might not be able to scramble out in time before this enormous wall of water reached me, so I thought there's nothing for it but to jump up on the garage.
“I gave one mighty leap catching the edge of the roof and pulled myself up and within a
second of me being on the roof the water was half way up the garage. I sat on the roof and watched the water gradually coming up, by this time it had found its own level and was creeping up all round the garage.
“I looked at my watch and it was about 6.30 p.m. I had to remain there for some considerable time,
but to my horror the water was getting higher and higher and again to my amazement discovered that the volume of water was lifting the garage up and going down again with the current of the water, and of course what was happening was the garage being constructed of wood it had some enormous posts dug into the ground two to three feet but the water was lifting the complete garage up and down. Luckily for me it never did get the garage completely up as the posts when the wind
lulled were going back down into the holes. By this time the water had got well up to my legs and I saw a giant pigs trough coming along on the waves and I thought if I can get that and sink it that would give some weight to put on top of the roof because I knew if the water caused the posts to come completely out, it would have been swept away.
“I wasn't sure if the pig trough was going to come in my direction and of course by this time I could move very little in the water as I was extremely cold and stiff. The trough came straight for me: I managed to get hold of it with my hands. This was quite a feat because it was a great big cast
iron trough with hoops going from the top circle down to the bottom, making a place for each pig to feed. I managed to push it down under the water and I can remember what an effort it was, but I did sink it onto the garage roof giving it some more weight.
“There were all kinds of things coming along in the water that night including railway sleepers. I had to force them around me. The next thing to come along was a large pole, I should imagine it was a
scaffold pole. It was quite long I forced it down into the irons of the trough, and about a yard and a half away from the garage was a small sycamore tree. I fixed the pole across into the boughs of the
tree. I thought this would give the garage a little more stability. Another problem I was going to have to face was that a few yards below me towards the Newgate council houses there was an electrical
transformer set up on some poles. I thought when the water reaches that there would be a bang, a big bang, because I had always been told that water and electricity don't mix very well, but I worried
that it wouldn't knock the transformer out immediately and would electrify the water around it. But my fears were ended in a few minutes when the water went over the transformer. There were a few
sparks and all the lights in the village went out. Well as you know Newgate hasn't got any street lights nor Cley but of course you could see the lights in the houses and one of the most devastating things that happened to me was to witness the water going in the houses after this and putting the fires out. There was no lights and I could see clearly in the houses and in the Swallow's Public House, they had two fires, one in the Bar the other in the Lounge. My Grannie had one in her living room. You couldn't see our house because it's secluded by the wall. In the next house and the house nearest the church you could see glows in the rooms as the water went gradually up and up
towards the church. All the fires went out and I began to think I wasn't going to see tomorrow.
“The water was still rising and I thought I would have to make plans to get across into the little tree as the tree was a little higher than the garage. I could perhaps cling on until someone could rescue me. My family knew roughly where I was but of course there was no way they could reach me. By this time lights had appeared up the Holt Road near Church Lane and a lot of activity seemed to be going on but I was too engrossed with surviving the night. I managed to crawl across this pole by dangling underneath of it and wrapped my legs around it and getting into this young sycamore tree. It was quite flimsy and rocked violently though I only weigh 10 stone, it was still an awful lot of weight for a little tree, but to my horror I discovered that the tree was full of rats. They were climbing up and hanging on the tree like a bunch of grapes. I tried to shake the tree so the rats would fall off, but the noise of their screams when they knew they were going back into the water was dreadful, something I can't describe. Some of these rats had swam a considerable way and were exhausted and so as they desperately clung to these very young branches. They knew they were going to their deaths.
(to be continued)