SURVIVORS, rescuers and dignitaries from across Essex joined together to remember the heartache and endurance of the 1953 North Sea Flood which changed the face of the county forever.

For a precious few hours, Chelmsford Cathedral came alive with the untold stories and heroics of one of the UK’s worst natural disasters in which over 300 people tragically lost their lives and around 32,000 people evacuated from their homes.

The pews were packed to capacity as around 450 filled the cathedral, listening to and sharing their accounts of that fateful night and the devastation that followed.

The Princess Royal arrived shortly before the service at 11:30am in which she gave a reading, and spent over an hour meeting with survivors and victims’ families to hear first-hand how their lives were affected by the disaster.

Peter Martin, leader of Essex County Council, who helped organised the event, said: “This was one of the biggest tragedies to ever strike Essex so it was so important to us to provide this opportunity for everyone to come together in the same room and share their stories.

“The event went wonderfully, and having the Princess Royal here was such an honour. It really made the event that much more special. It was a tragic and terrible point in Essex’s history, but it nonetheless is a tremendously important event that we should remember.”

Eager residents braved the icy winds clutching their cameras outside in a bid to catch a glimpse of her royal highness as she entered and left the cathedral.

Mary Blackall, 67, of Primrose Hill, Chelmsford, whose father helped in the rescue efforts, said: “This is such a big part of our heritage, and I wanted to get here early to see if could see the Princess and everyone going in. I mean, how often does a royal come to Essex? It’s really fantastic that events like this are being held to preserve this part of our history.”

Angelic voices from the Chelmsford Cathedral Choir sang hymns and psalms while readings were conducted by the Very Reverend Peter Judd, Dean of Chelmsford, and Bishop of Bradwell John Wraw.

Proud mum Sian Shordan, 48, of Brimfield Road, Chelmsford, whose daughter Bethany sang in the choir, said: “I’m so immensely pleased for her and all of the girls because they sing so fantastically. I was incredibly nervous for her but I knew she would do an amazing job.”

Dramatic scenes from the play Flood! were also performed by Canvey-based drama group Cast and Crew to bring to life some of the stories of bravery which came out of the flood.

Cast and Crew member Andy Shore said: “The pressure was on, not just because the Princess Royal and dignitaries were there, but also because a lot of people in the cathedral had lived through the event. We just wanted to do justice to their stories and felt so privileged to be able to perform at this event.”

County councillor Ray Howard, who was 11 when the storm hit, said: “There was not a seat spare in the cathedral and it was absolutely wonderful. It was a beautiful service, and really helped to bring home to a lot of people the true devastation of the flood. It’s so important not only that we remember those who lost their lives and the people that helped make Essex safe again, but also that we remain vigilant to try and ensure we never suffer in the same way again.”