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STANTA (Stanford Training Area)

In 1942 the Ministry of Defence (MOD) compulsorily purchased an area in the Brecklands to turn into a battle training area. To do so it evacuated the villages of Buckenham Tofts, Langford, Stanford, Sturston, Tottington and West Tofts. At the time the villagers were told that they would be able to return to their homes after WW2 - however the MOD later reneged on its promise. There is still considerable resentment in the area about this decision. The area became known as STANTA which stands for the Stanford Training Area. One positive outcome of the evacuations has been the creation of the largest Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in lowland Britain -  where rare Breckland flowers and birds - such as the stone curlew - now thrive.

The Battle Zone, as it is sometimes known, is in constant use as an area to train troops and includes a live-firing area. Originally it was used to train troops for Northern Island but more recently for Afghanistan. In fact, a replica Afghan village was created to make training more authentic.

Today it is only possible to enter the Battle Zone with permission from the MOD. All of the six villages had churches - although those at Buckenham Tofts and Sturton were abandoned in earlier centuries.

In 2013, the poet Andrea Holland published a collection of poems entitled Broadcasting which painted a moving picture of the evacuation and the impact that it had upon the villagers. Here is one of her poems:


in this accent is burrow, the home of the rabbit
unearthed by dogs. The home of the farmer

unearthed by tanks; everything is borrowed.
From there its the barrow to carry, the barrow

to bury. And it's a small step from warren
to warrant, to declaration; an eviction.

We murmur through promise, reassurance,
the sound of neighbour and home:

all the village words burried by dogs
or lost in the war.

The collection also contains a poem about Tottington Church entitled: Tottington Church: Reredos and a poem about a dummy airfield that was created during WW2 to fool the Luftwaffe. Many of the fittings and fixtures from St Andrew's Church were stripped out and moved to Rockland St Peter.

In my haiku sequence entitled  Norfolk Deserted Villages there are two poems relating to Stanford:

Stanford Church

Stranded now in the
Battle Zone - with your old graves
And your blast proof roof.


Among the shelling
And machine gun fire lie
Your unquiet dead.

STANTA was also used extensively as a location for many of the outside sequences in Dad's Army.

Norfolk Battle Zone Churches




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