High up on the South Downs in West Sussex, a short walk from Kithurst Hill car park, surrounded by peaceful fields, wildlife and crops, sits a now silent giant. A beast of a man-made machine.
Over 75 years ago this area of the South Downs, rising above Storrington, Cootham and Parham House would have been a hive of military activity.
South Downs WW2 Tank – HD Video
The following video was shot on 17th May 2015 by myself, an hour before sunset. The audio is very quiet because it can be very quiet in that part of the South Downs National Park. A far cry from back in 1941 / 1942.
The South Downs, with their sparse population back in the 1930s – 1940s were the ideal training grounds for battle ready Canadian troops and their metallic machines. After hostilities ended between the Axis powers and Allied forces, a huge clean-up operation began, with the removal of defences, equipment, weapons.
Once civilian access was fully restored to the Downs, a sense of normality descended upon the land; peace and quiet returned. Not all defences were removed though, as a walk in the countryside will reveal today; pillboxes, anti-tank traps can still be found dotted around fields and country lanes at strategic points.
What you don’t often find in the middle of a field, is the rusted chassis of a Churchill MKII Tank, complete with holes from armour-piercing munitions.
South Downs WW2 Churchill MKII Tank
The story goes like this; As the Second World War progressed, so military technology also progressed just as rapidly. Enhancements and improvements were made to fighting vehicles, inferior and unreliable machines were liable to be left behind. Which is exactly what happened with the South Downs tank.
The 14th Canadian Army Tank Battalion used this tank and others just like it, for training. This tank was due to be used on the ill-fated Dieppe raid (19th August 1942) but developed mechanical problems so was left behind in Sussex. The 2nd Canadian Army Division used it as target practice on the South Downs and after the war ended efforts were made to remove the remains.
Unfortunately at the time, the efforts to clean up the South Downs and remove the tank proved difficult. A lack of easy road access, plus soft ground conditions meant that in the end the fate of the Churchill was to be a little undignified.
The Kithurst Hill Tank was rolled unceremoniously into a nearby bomb crater and would spend the next 50 years buried under soil and chalk, upside down. Eventually in 1993 the REME unearthed the remains and dragged the tank from the crater, to the side of a field. Where it sits today.
Various parts of the tank were removed and salvaged to aid restoration of other Churchill tanks at the Tank Museum, Bovington Camp in Dorset. What’s left is what you see today. The chassis of the tank, complete with track drive wheels, turret gear and lots of holes from the target practice.
Just Sleeping Now – I’m Tired of Fighting. I shot the image below at this angle because I wanted to create a sense of peace, calm and a final resting place for memories.
The 70th anniversary of D-Day was remembered 2 days before I took this image. I said a silent thank you as I pressed the shutter.
The easiest way to walk to the tank is to start from the SDW car park at Kithurst Hill (Springhead Hill). From the B2139 Amberley Road there is a tarmac track that leads up to the car park. The South Downs Way runs east / west just a few feet from the car park.
Stand on the SDW and look south towards the English Channel, you should see a public footpath leading south-east across a large field. Follow this path between the crops (in the summer of course!)
After walking across this field you will come to an intersection with another path. Still looking south, you want to take the path that leads off to the right, through a small wooded dell. Watch out for the stinging nettles, they bite in Sussex 😉 At the time of my 2014 visit someone had crudely written on the footpath sign the word “tank”, which was handy.
Map of Walking Route
The map shown is a rough guide to the route that I walked. Please make sure you always follow safe and legal paths, roads and walkways. The actual location of the red-route on the map is an approximation. Never walk in the sea or off a cliff, please just don’t, you’ll get wet and I’ll get worried!