Eastwell Park and the mystery of the flamethrowing tanks
PUBLISHED: 15:20 08 April 2013 | UPDATED: 16:18 08 April 2013
Kent park was testing ground for flamethrowing war machines
IT surrounds one of east Kent’s most stunning country houses, boasting a tree-lined drive, picturesque lake and perfectly manicured lawns.
But beneath the grandeur of Eastwell Park, near Ashford, lies a fascinating and mysterious past.
For many the park, the entrance for which is close to the village green in nearby Boughton Lees, is best-known for its four-star hotel Eastwell Manor that lies at its heart.
But the grounds have more than a few tricks up its sleeve.
Not only is it said to have once been the final resting place of King Richard III’s illegitimate son, but also a secret testing ground for new weaponry during World War Two.
Rumours have been rife for years that a number of tanks were sunk into the lake in the grounds as the Army looked to rid itself of decommissioned vehicles after the war.
A book published in 1999 by Phillip G Dormer called The Eastwell Park Historiette lifted the lid on a little of the site’s secrets.
The book documents the movements of various tank regiments as they trialled their new war machines on the open ground.
Pictures include one of the Royal Armoured Corps at Eastwell in 1943, as well as the testing of the notorious flame-throwing Churchill Crocodile tank.
David Willey, curator and military expert of the Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset, believes the tale of the sunken tanks could well be true.
He said: “Various royal armoured units and tank regiments were based there during the war.
“There are a lot of these stories that are proven to be true, but they are a classic urban myth as well.
“So the idea there are some tanks buried at Eastwell is not impossible, but is worth taking with a pinch of salt. It is a classic buried treasure rumour, but wherever the Army trained, they are bound to have dumped stuff.”
Eastwell Park has a number of large corrugated sheds which are said to have housed the vehicles, and there is a World War Two bunker dug into one of the hills overlooking the park.
It is also said that large fences were erected around the park for the Army to practice manoeuvres in the tanks before heading out to join the war effort.
But why would these impressive and expensive vehicles be left behind?
“With something as big as a tank,” explains Mr Willey, “it always goes through this costing and cutting curve.
“To build one costs a fortune, but the minute they went out of service they were not worth the scrap value. There were times when people would dump things because it was cheaper than sending them to the scrap merchant.
“At the moment we are used to the idea scrap is actually quite valuable so we know it’s worth saving.
“But there were certain periods after the war when there was so much scrap around it was worth nothing. We have some in the museum. They were used by the Army and then new vehicles came along so these were left behind.
“Later, someone just bulldozed earth over the top and left them in this bank in a country house estate because it was easier than bothering to transport it somewhere to be melted down.”