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Cannock Chase under construction
Cannock Chase under construction

How Cannock Chase shaped the soldiers of the Great War

They may not have recreated the horrors experienced by men in the trenches of the Western Front, but the WWI training camps on Cannock Chase in Staffordshire helped prepare the soldiers who would eventually win the war.

Amongst the most impressive and extensive remains are the two training camps of Brocton and Rugeley, where more than 500,000 men from the UK and the Commonwealth were trained for the war.

The two camps were each designed to hold approximately 20,000 men at once, equivalent to the size of an infantry division at the time, and lay within a large training complex.

Soldiers trained on the Chase from 1915 until the war’s end and would have spent several months there to learn the unique fighting skills required on the Western Front before being shipped across the Channel.

Earlier this year, using modern technology,  several hundred more military archaeological sites were uncovered on the Chase, including assault courses, weapons pits, and an extensive replica ‘battlefield’.  The mocked-up front line even had hand-dug shell holes in the no-man’s land between the ‘friendly’ and ‘enemy’ trenches.

These discoveries add to the Messines terrain model, a scaled replica of the Belgian battlefield created for training soldiers WHICH was also excavated in 2013, recorded and reburied.

 

Messines Terrain Model

The Messines Terrain Model

The camps were dismantled when the guns fell silent, although the remains survive in silent testimony as some of the most complete Great War archaeological sites in the country.

Gill Heath, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities who is leading on the county’s Great War Commemorations, said:

“Cannock Chase is a well-loved Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty used today for sport and leisure, but it also has some of the best preserved Great War archaeology in the country, including the two WWI training camps.

“Now, as we prepare to commemorate the centenary anniversary of the end of the First World War, it’s timely that we should reflect on the incredibly important role of the camps and how it must have been for the men there who were preparing to fight, and perhaps die, to win the war.

“And as custodians of this important landscape, we must now protect it so future generations can learn from it and remember those many sacrifices made during the war.”

People can find out more about Staffordshire’s role during the Great War on the dedicated website at www.staffordshiregreatwar.com