worthing history
 

© FREDDIE FEEST 2012

 
Tsunami hit Worthing in 1929
 
       
 
Worthing Seafront
Holiday makers enjoying the sun and a tranquil low tide on Worthing beach in the summer of 1929 suddenly became frightened when a huge, freak wave unexpectedly crashed ashore, overturning boats and knocking people off their feet

TIDAL WAVES are among the most awesome examples of Nature’s power. Fortunately, they are rare occurrences and one could be forgiven for imagining that on a gloriously hot and sunny day on our south coast beaches there would be little to fear of any such dramatic event. In July 1929 such complacency was shattered.

     There had been unbroken sunshine since dawn on that day but by early afternoon the weather-wise noted towering thunderclouds building north of the Downs.
As the afternoon passed, the distant rumble of thunder could occasionally be heard and lightning flashed to the north of the town.
     With the temperature reaching 76 degrees Fahrenheit, however, no one was going to abandon the pleasure of a cooling dip in the sea unless the storm moved in over the town.
     The tide was still going out as holidaymakers joined their children in shrimping in the many rock pools between Goring and Shoreham.
     It was upon this peaceful, sunny scene, with its sound of laughing youngsters, that drama overtook everybody with frightening suddenness.
     A gale of wind suddenly sprang up, and in moments, the sea was advancing up the beach with astonishing rapidity.
     Said one eye-witness: “The first thing I noticed was a cloud of paper and sand.
     “Then I saw deck-chairs being blown along the Pier and promenade. I looked towards the sea and, to my horror, saw a huge wave coming in.
     “It was low tide but the wave came rushing in over the normal mark by nearly 150 yards.
      “People began running in all directions, absolutely frightened.”
     A woman visitor to Worthing, staying at a seafront hotel, had one of the narrowest escapes, as she was knocked unconscious by the water.  She was paddling at low-water mark, accompanied by another woman, and before she realised the danger she was knocked off her feet by the force of the wave.
     A man and his son were in the water nearby and the boy was in a canoe that immediately capsized. The lad was thrown into the water but the father succeeded in rescuing him.
     He then went to the assistance of the woman and got her out of the water. She was unconscious and a coastguard gave her artificial respiration while a doctor was summoned.
     An invalid in a bath chair on the sands sat helpless as the wave rushed towards him and it had just reached his chair when two men, realising his danger of being swept back with the water, rushed to his aid and carried him to the promenade.
     A nine-year-old girl, Hilda Knight, of Cottenham Road, Worthing, had a narrow escape. She had been paddling with her father, who was shrimping, when the wave separated them.
     A man rushed into the water and rescued her but she suffered considerably from shock as well as from the immersion and she was taken home in a car.
     The freak weather condition that caused havoc on the beach was to leave its mark inland.
     Players in a cricket match at what was then known as the Manor Field, in Broadwater Road, Worthing, told how they saw “great clouds of dust whirling over the Downs”.
     A curious feature of that afternoon was that Worthing virtually escaped the severe storm that swept across much of Sussex and its coast. The town enjoyed more than 10 hours of sunshine and only 0.01 inches of rain!
     But along the shore, between Lancing and Shoreham, there were dramatic scenes as hundreds of summer merrymakers were taken by surprise.
     It was reported that two boys were seen drifting out to sea in a boat just after the great wave broke on the beaches, though a search by coastguards until dusk found nothing.
     Some boats came ashore some distance from their bases and were later towed to their respective sheds.
     On the beach at Shoreham’s Bungalow Town, many people were drenched and others received minor injuries when they were thrown against groynes and on to beach stones.
     Three women visitors from Hove, sitting close to the water’s edge, fully dressed, were almost submerged by the great wave and had to be helped out of the water by other holidaymakers.
     Another visitor, having disrobed for the beach, came ashore to see all his clothes being washed out to sea on the ebb of the tidal wave and was forced to borrow some clothes to get home.
     Several people out in boats were thrown into the water by the force of the wave catching them broadside.
     All this happened 79 years ago and it’s easy to be complacent, but it is worth heeding the warning that appeared in the Worthing Gazette a few days after the incident.
     It read: “It is several years since a similar incident happened at Worthing but, strangely, this also occurred in the evening, and at low tide.”