Memorial walk on Cannock Chase

July saw the centenary for the Battle of the Somme, having visit the Somme battlefields, graves & memorials the centenary had more feeling behind, just knowing that i have stood on soil that holds the war dead. A distant relative also on the Theipval memorial, Herbert Boys, who’s sweetheart back home never found love again after he went missing at the Somme.
I visited Ypres and the surrounding area in 2006 as part of a battlefield school trip and it really was a poignant trip for me that I tried to visit every year since.
This year unfortunately, I don’t think i will be able to make it out there due to other commitments, so I decided to seek out memorials in my area and headed for Cannock Chase.

Cannock Chase 3 Memorials walk
The chase was home to many New Zealand soldiers in the First World War: in the start of the war in 1914, Cannock chase was under construction, two camps were built known as Brocton and Rugeley, they were under the permission of Lord Lichfield who lived in nearby Shugborough as it was his land they were being built on.
The Camps would hold 40,000 and train 500,000 over the years, to put it in perspective camp bastion in Afghanistan holds 30,000. There were amenities such as post office, church and a theatre holding similar ideas to that of camp bastion.
In an archaeological survey in 2006 it reviled many things about the camps at Cannock chase, They built practice trenches with the system being made up of zig zag trenches also known as ‘dog tooth’ matching that of the western front. They also built a model town of Messines; this is the only surviving example of a Great War terrain model. Messines was a town in Belgium which was part of a ridge that formed a poignant key in the German defence system. The New Zealand Rifle brigade in 1917 fought a fierce battle to win the ridge and widen the campaign over Ypres. They came back to Cannock Chase and rebuilt what they had won to train soldiers, not only was it a key piece of training field, but also a memorial to one of the most successful offensives of the Great War.
The model actually survived until the Second World War and was a tourist attraction between then. In WW2 it returned to its original purpose and became a military camp again. After this it became over grown and eventually buried.
There is a lovely story about the Great War Hut. Across the camps there were accommodation huts for all the soldiers, after the war they were sold off and used as parish halls, or workshops. One such hut found life in Gayton 10miles north of here for dances, weddings and local meetings. In 2006 when Gayton Parish council and secured enough funds to build a brand new hall they offered the hut back to Cannock chase. It is now part of the Cannock chase visitors centre and a lasting homage to the squaddies who rested and recuperated there before their life on the front.
There were also German POWs at this site over 3,000 of them. They carried out day to day duties by farming on the estates land and gardening in the gardens, one being Shugborough Hall, others using there trade of engineering or watch making.
By the end of the war the New Zealanders had warmed the hearts of the Staffordonians and presented them with a silk New Zealand flag during a large parade and farewell party. Unfortunately over time the flag has been lost, and only until recently Stafford has been without one. In April 2015 New Zealand presented Stafford with a new flag during the ANZAC Ceremony carried out on Cannock chase annually.

The commonwealth war graves are a common site in Flanders and France, but not so in England, holds 100 graves, most are New Zealanders.

Cannock Chase War Graves
Cannock Chase War Graves

Walking down the track and you come across another cemetery but laid out a little differently, this is German.
In 1956 The UK and Germany federations agreed to act upon the maintenance of the German war dead on British soil. Nearly 5000 remains were all brought to one central location and Cannock Chase became their final resting place.
Entrance to German War GravesWP_20160627_14_01_25_Pro

When you follow the correct tracks and footpaths to the last memorial it should take around an hour and half, and this memorial is not British or German, but Polish…
It is to commemorate a tragic event which happened in History, In May 1940 thousands of polish prisoners of soldiers, interlectuals and elite were taken to Katyn Forrest, believed they were being set free, but fired upon by the NKVD Russian Secret Police, on Stalin’s orders. For years the Russians tried to blame the Nazis for this indescribable attack and only in 1990 did they fully acknowledge it was a Soviet crime.

The whole walk took about 3 hours with a stop for lunch on easy terrain, if you have a dog there is a stream which they may like to get their paws wet!

Trentham Rosarium

Evening stroll through the sinking sunlight, after what was a horrendous day of rain. Seeking the moment deciding to get some peace whilst walking the dog. We headed to our favourite haunt Trentham Gardens, after not managing to get here for a while it would be interesting to know how the gardens have grown. Knowing that in May they were planting 1000s of new beddings its hard to imagine the bare patches of grass they were once, now full of flower and bloom.

Meadow Field
Meadow Field

Mum mentioned that she had seen someone tweet about the roses and we finished the walk making our way through the walk way.
They smelt divine, true smell of summer, and being as its the longest day tomorrow it was setting the scene for us perfectly. Sid my dog thoroughly enjoyed it, makes a change from smelling his usual essences.

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‘Hot Air’ Stoke on Trent Literacy Festival

Over 3 days 9th,10th & 11th June, Stoke-on-Trent held a literacy festival, seems appropriate to happen considering the greats that have arisen from the Staffordshire, Alan Bennett, Arthur Berry not forgetting the writing skills of Robbie and don’t forget that Kipling was named after a Lake in the area!
I attended the last day after hearing good reports from the first two successful days, it was held in the lovely setting of the Emma Bridgewater Factory in Hanley (city centre)

The first sitting was Lisa Blower, author of ‘Sitting Ducks’ about the Minton family trying to save their home in present day Stoke on Trent, this was an interesting session with questions being asked about childhood life in SOT and also pressing touchy subjects such as was the book to working class – I have not read the book but from the extracts read out to us it seems quite edgy, realistic approach to life with dry humour, a little bit like a Stokie!
I do find though why do we feel the need to write about Stoke like its drab and dreary, yes I agree its not the most picturesque city and a mish mash really of beautiful and grotesque buildings, but if people keep writing about it like that we are never going to change peoples minds and perception of it.

The next was Sarah Raven, it was my mum who persuaded me to this one, she sold it as ‘Gardener, Flower arranger & Cook’ (person after my mothers heart) but i was willing to give it ago.
I was pleasantly surprised by how fascinating it was, telling us how she had come to realise eating copious amounts of cheese, butter, cream and wine wasn’t going to make you last forever (Really!) She went through some of her recipes in her new book (obviously as was at a literacy fest) essentially she was inspiring people to think about the foods that you put into your meals
Top Health Tips:
1. Eat eggs almost every day
2. Have three mouth fulls of protein before you eat anything else on your plate
3. Kale kale kale and more kale
4. Rapeseed oil can withstand high temperatures of cooking so better for you

After all the talk about food, it was clearly time to eat, and had tea in the Emma Bridgewater cafe (felt inclined to be healthy after all the talk of it)

Simon Jenkins afterwards talking on Historic Houses in Britain, as former Chairman of the National Trust, it was apparent fairly quickly that he was against the Moto ‘Please do not touch’ which has almost become the synonym with NatTrust. But he wanted the houses not just to be looked at but enjoyed; to sit and read a book in the library of a great house, but the kettle on in the kitchen and follow the story of an important event or story.
I recently visited Upton House in Warwickshire and the hole house had been used as a bank in the Second World War and they had set it out exactly like it had been in 1940, even uncovering the Anderson shelter!

Lastly was the Pottery Throw Down special, up on the panel was Tristam Hunt interviewing: Emma Bridgewater, Keith Brymer Jones (Judge) and Jim Ranson. First Question how it started – the idea was born after Love productions aproaching Keith after seeing a video of him throwing a pot dressed as Adele apparently – says it all, but when coming up with the layout of the program it was not sold as a talent competition but a group of potters showing off their skills.
This immediately brought up comments of educating ceramics in school and after Stoke on Trent had received such good publicity from it has it increased tourism. Both are very good points,
1. I don’t think teaching ceramics in schools is going to happen anytime soon however, pottery classes i think maybe needed in the area and potentially a business idea for someone
2. Tourism in SOT will and always be popular, we don’t see the numbers queuing out the door on a scale as Buckingham Palace or clogging up the streets of Bibury, however i would like to remind that Stoke on Trent has 15+ visitor attractions and its easy to loose a lot of people in such a big place.

So what i learn’t, if people stopped describing Stoke as a working class city with black walls and smoke filled lungs, re-invent the oatcake without cheese and bacon, fill it with Kale and beetroot, let people touch and handle everything in the city… we may only may get more tourist.

Starting up…

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