The fisherfolk of Hallsands knew that the storm was coming, and they knew that it might be the end for their village. But they were tough Devon people, born and bred to the sea, whose womenfolk could haul boats up and down the shingle beach and fish with the men when required. So that night in November 1917 they sat out the storm, though children were sent for safety to relatives and friends further inland. But they did not anticipate four days of briny hell.
The villagers' forebears had chosen the site well. Situated at the foot of a sloping sandstone cliff it was separated from the sea by a ninety yard shingle beach which ensured that waves broke nearly three hundred feet from the village. Moreover, the shingle took the force of the waves and safely absorbed it. But in the 1890s in came the government. The shingle was excavated to provide concrete for a naval dockyard. The villagers' protests were in vain, the beach was stripped of much, though not all shingle, and though officialdom eventually decided to call a halt, the villagers knew that they were living on borrowed time.
The storm of 1917 lasted four days, with the mountainous waves crashing upon the village. Stone buildings began to crumble under the pounding, including the village inn, the London Inn, owned by the Prettejohns. Fortunately, they dwelt on the higher, landward side of the village, so they were spared the worst. But the villagers were forced to flee inland when storm water began to come down their chimneys. Remarkably, all the 79 villagers survived. The youngest survivor was a seven day old baby, who was transported to safety through the driving rain in a fisherman's mawn, a conical willow basket carried on the back. The Prettejohn house was one of the few that survived.
Some villagers who owned their own houses gained compensation from the government, but renters got nothing as compensation went to landlords. Many villagers moved away to safer places. But Elizabeth stayed, remaining until her death in 1964.