Travels with my elephant

November 2017

Suzie Lay came to see to us in November to deliver a different sort of History Group talk!

In 2007, when Suzy was working with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, taking groups of children on boat trips and walks around the Broads, she heard the 800,000 year old story of the West Runton Elephant. How he lived among Norfolk woodland, marsh and rivers, along with rhinos, big cats, horses and hyenas. How, at 4 metres to the shoulder, he was the biggest of them all – the biggest, most complete mammoth ever discovered in the entire world - as big as a Tyrannosaurus Rex. How, when he was young, he injured his leg, which became diseased so when, aged 42, he slipped into a river he could not get out – and so he died.

Suzie was fascinated by the story, built up from the excavation and examination of the ancient bones. A touching story which became a passion that led her to seek out the bones, then kept in store at Gressenhall. Then to meet Margaret Hems who, together with her husband, had discovered the mammoth in 1992 after a stormy night had washed away part of the cliffs at West Runton. How could children learn more of this remarkable story?

During her talk, Suzie held vertically a seven foot cane. “Imagine another fixed in the top. That’s how tall he was”. Rather a “linear depiction” of a mammoth, but perhaps what gave her the idea which became an obsession. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see the elephant once again walking along the beach?

By 2012 Suzie had joined the Norfolk Museum Service where she was surprised to see that the bones had still not been displayed. So, off then to see Jeremy Moore, well known in Martham, who specialised in restoring WWII aircraft. “Will you build me a walking, life-sized West Runton Elephant?” “Whatever Suzie wants …….!”  

From engineering drawing, through building with fine birch lathes, with a head woven of willow to the magnificent creature walking the beach took two years. Photographs and video took us through the painstaking process. Over 700 people came to that first event, at which Martham was represented by two of our retained fireman occupying a leg each, with Suzie and Jeremy occupying the others. The East Anglian press was full of it and the internet still is. There were many more appearances, including one at the Martham Carnival where, sadly, he merely stood and watched we small humans walking by.

He now lives in an open barn at Somerleyton, where he has been once blown over and has provided a home for nesting chaffinches. Back to how it all started, reminding us of the bones of small creatures that were found among his own. Oh, mustn’t forget, he has a new name – Hugh Mungus, as he is called in the comic book that Suzie has written for children.

For information on an earlier talk in 2013 see this page.

Noel Mitchell


(Above: elephant walking, courtesy of Suzy Watson's website

(Below: elephant profile, courtesy of Suzy Watson's website

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