Branch trip to Cannock Chase, April 14, 2019.

On Sunday April 14th, 25 branch members and friends set off for a guided tour of all sights of WW1 interest to be found today on Cannock Chase, the site of the wartime Brocton and Rugeley Camps.

Lincoln Branch members at Cannock Chase, April 2019

Our very knowledgeable guide for the day was the well known WFA stalwart, Dave Dunham; and what a day he had planned for us.

Dave Dunham

Starting at the restored WW1 hut at the visitor centre near to the site of the old Rugeley camp, Dave explained with the help of a large diorama, the layout and enormity of the camp in its heyday. Not only could some 30,000+ soldiers be trained here at any one time but the number of resident instructors and other ancillary roles increased as the camp increased in size to include a substantial railway layout for the ‘Tackeroo Express’, a 1000 bed hospital, a POW camp, bakeries, cookhouses, YMCA huts, cinema, water supply, power station and other recreational activities.

The hut, now restored, again sited on Cannock Chase as it was during the First World War

For the serious side of training new recruits; rifle ranges, machine gun ranges and large scale trench systems with redoubts were built so as to try and replicate conditions at the front. Tanks arrived in 1917 and new infantry formations were practised in co-operation with the tank crews before the battle of Cambrai.

Billeted here for a lengthy spell were elements of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade and it was they, who constructed the famous scale model of the Messines Ridge which they had attacked in June 1917. This ‘cement mortar’ model was rediscovered again in 2007 and was the subject of an archaeological dig in 2013. It is now covered over once again but adjacent to it is the grave site of Freda, the NZRB Harlequin Great Dane mascot.

The grave site of Freda, the NZRB mascot

After a splendid lunch at the Barley Mow pub, well used by the soldiers 100 years before, we had a good walk through the site of the POW camp, visited the start of a well defined trench system and ended the day at both the CWGC and German war cemeteries.

The remains of four German airship crews are interred in the German cemetery as are a number of German casualties from the Second War, including General – Feldmarschall Ernst Busch, the highest ranking German buried in the UK.

For me, the highlight of the day, was walking the ‘E’ rifle range and looking back at the butts from the 600 yard marker. It certainly gave a great understanding of how proficient the British soldier was with his SMLE.

E range, at the 600 yard marker

Once again, many thanks to Dave Dunham for his hard work on the day and my thanks to all those from the Lincoln area who are so supportive of our branch.

Our next planned outing is 15th September when we shall be visiting the Shuttleworth collection of historic aircraft.

Jonathan D’Hooghe
Chairman, Lincoln & North Lincs WFA

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