In the dark days of the Second World War villagers living in 30,000 acres of quiet Norfolk countryside were evicted from their homes and farms to make way for the Army's Stanford Training Area (Stanta). The rolling fields and pastures were considered ideal for preparing Allied troops for the up-and-coming assault on German-occupied Europe. During the Cold War the Stanta training facilities were updated in line with the need to prepare for war with the Soviets and the mock village of "Eastmere" was built, presumably to mimic an East European kolkhoz. These facilities were also suitable for training troops prior to their deployment to Northern Ireland.
Now in the age of the War on Terror, the MoD is having to revamp the training area once again. £18million is to be spent on building a Middle Eastern landscape containing villages complete with bazaars, mosques and hamams. Rumour has it that tons of sand is to be dredged from the Maplin sandbanks, transported on massive barges up the East coast and dumped on the Norfolk fields to form a desert terrain. It is also being reported that hundreds of palm trees are being purchased from Saudi arboriculturists for transplanting in the artificial sand dunes.
It is clear that the Operational Training and Advisory Group (OPTAG), who are overseeing the programme, are keen to make the new training environment as realistic as possible.
Link> BBC: MoD base to be 'Middle East town'
Link> Bury Free Press: £18m Middle East plan