Elveden’s secret military history and its crucial part in the development of the tank has been laid bare in a book by a local author.
Roger Pugh, from Thetford, had his interest in the area’s history piqued after spotting a photograph of a tank in the Elveden Inn.
The 71-year-old’s extensive research revealed more than he bargained for - a secret 25 square mile tank training ground on the Elveden Estate, used during the weapon’s development in 1916.
His book, The Most Secret Place on Earth, tells the story of a space created in complete secrecy to train a new Army division for the tanks’ operation.
“The Army needed a huge training area, and Elveden had two tremendous advantages,” said Roger.
“It was very wild and desolate, you could go for miles without encountering people or buildings, but at the same time it had a good railway access which was vital for bringing the tanks to the site.”
Roger’s research revealed that to create ‘realistic conditions’, the Army created a replica of a World War One battle ground.
Complete with German and British front lines, miles of trenches and more than a million sandbags, it took 3,000 men six weeks to build and was code-named the Elveden Explosives Area.
During his research Roger visited the Tank Museum in Dorset and the Imperial War Museum, poring over original documents and books.
“Gradually I put together a very comprehensive picture, and what emerged as a fascinating history,” he said.
“It became a great interest of mind because I believe it is the most significant feature of military affairs in East Anglia during the First World War.
“I’m simply pleased I have recorded this important part of local history, intended and written as a tribute to the fellows who fought.
“What stood out was the astonishment our troops felt when they first saw a tank. Many had been directed there without exact knowledge of what whey were going to do.
“We were still in the early days of mechanical devices, so all this kind of thing was truly astonishing.”
Following the book’s publication in November, Roger had a successful book signing at Waterstone’s in Bury’s Buttermarket. Copies of the book, now in its second print run, are available from the store.