Hester Burton was the author of many historical fiction works for young readers. This is the American version of her first book, a fictional account of a small coastal town in the English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk based on the actual 1953 North Sea flood that devastated the area. (The British title was “The Great Gale” published in 1960.) The illustrations by Robin Jacques are wonderful, I always pick up his work when I see it.
The town of Norfolk is small, clustered on the west side of Reedsmere Broad. Just east of the Broad is a line of dunes, and beyond it the North Sea. At the north end of town is Reedsmere Hall, the manor house, the parish church, and the Pickerel Inn. At the southern end of the Broad is the home of the Dr. Vaughn and his family, with children Mark and Mary Vaughan, who will lead the narrative, but many of the townsfolk will have important roles to play in the coming storm and flood. Mark and Mary love boating on the Broad, and with the wind rising and the storm approaching, they worry about their friends, the elderly couple Jim and Hepzie Foulger, who are the only ones living on the east side of the Broad in a small cottage next to the dunes. On the night of the flood, no one yet knows how bad things will get. Dr. and Mrs. Vaughan drive off to a dinner in another town, leaving Mark and Mary home alone in their living room. The wind is fierce, and they watch the water rise around their house. Suddenly it’s seeping through the windows and inside! The children carry what they can upstairs away from the water, but some things are too big to move.
Now they’re even more worried about Jim and Hepzie, whose house must surely be flooded. They decide to take the risk of going out in their rowboat to try to bring the old couple to safety. The wind and weather are horrible, and Mark and Mary can see the ocean waves breaking over the dunes into the Broad. They struggle with their boat, and finally reach the Foulger cottage, where Jim has cut a hole in the thatch roof to let them out. Mark and Mary are able to get the couple into their boat, and with Jim’s help, they row to the church, where other flood victims are already gathering. This is just the beginning of a seemingly endless night of danger and disaster that the people of the town must struggle through, with some help from American soldiers stationed nearby.
Exciting, a fine read with wonderful characters and surprising turns in the story. Recommended.