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.
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.
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!