How West Norfolk was on the frontline of the Cold War

editorial image
Have your say

A new book, telling the story of how West Norfolk spent decades on the frontline of a potential nuclear war, has been published.

It was 25 years ago this weekend that the iconic image of the Berlin Wall being torn down by citizens from both sides of the divide signalled the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

But, as Jim Wilson’s book, Cold War East Anglia, chronicles, it also began to lift a 40-year nuclear shadow from communities in West Norfolk and across the region.

During the 1950s, RAF Sculthorpe, near Fakenham, was the largest American air base in Europe, housing more than 10,000 personnel.

And Mr Wilson suggests the first targets in the event of a Soviet nuclear strike would have included Feltwell, which initially housed the RAF’s ballistic missile training school, and North Pickenham, which also housed missile launch pads.

But he says the whole area was “highly vulnerable” to a Soviet attack because it hosted such a large volume of both British and American nuclear interests.

He said: “The Soviet Union would have had to taken them out if they were to succeed in a nuclear war.”

The book tells the story of the region’s integral involvement in the struggle against Communism, ranging from the military hardware stationed in the area and secret germ warfare tests carried out over Norfolk in the 1960s to even the arrangements that were made for the country to be divided into 12 regions, each run by regional commissioners, if a nuclear war broke out.

It also reveals how an American serviceman effectively held the Sculthorpe base, and its nuclear arsenal, hostage in 1958 and how a nuclear weapon was dented when it fell off a work stand 30 years later.

Many of the structures and bunkers built to help the nation try to withstand a nuclear strike have already been lost and Mr Wilson, a former director of news for Anglia Television, believes the legacy of the conflict must be retained.

He said: “This is 40 years of UK history and it had a huge impact on the lives of people in that time. It would be a great shame if all those buildings are lost.”

Cold War East Anglia is published by the History Press.