By Webteam - 15th April 2019 6:01am
On 15 April 1953 Reis Leming, a 22-year-old US airman stationed in Britain, was presented with the George Medal. The award, the first given to a foreigner during peacetime, was presented by Home Secretary Sir David Maxwell Fyfe.
He rescued 27 people during the 1953 East Coast floods — the worst peacetime disaster in Britain during the 20th Century. On the night of 31 January the sea defences of Hunstanton, Norfolk, were overwhelmed by a storm surge, with up to 10 feet (3.0 m) of seawater flooding the low-lying South Beach area.
Leming was stationed at a US airbase at Sculthorpe when the tempest hit nearby Hunstanton.
He could not swim but dressed himself in a survival suit and, dragging an inflatable raft, waded through the flood waters in the darkness and rescued 27 people before collapsing from exhaustion and hypothermia.
Many of those trapped by the floods were families of American servicemen living off base in South Beach Road.
The tidal surge had devastating consequences all along the Suffolk coast — more than 300 people were killed and vast tracts of land covered in flood water.
Leming returned to the USA the year after the flood but the people of Hunstanton never forgot him and when he announced his engagement the town insisted on hosting the wedding. The ceremony was held on June 1953 and was attended by the mayor and other leading figures of the town whilst a large crowd gathered outside. At that time food was still rationed — the locals pooled their rations to bake a wedding cake and the town presented him with a set of Doulton china. Leming subsequently returned to the town on a number of occasions and, in 1993, attended the memorial service for the disaster and was presented to the Queen and Queen Mother at Sandringham.
On 13 July 2012 Hunstanton Town Council approved a motion to name the footway through the Esplanade Gardens "Reis Leming Way".
Mr Leming died later the same year at the age of 81.
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