Remembering the New Zealand riflemen who trained on Cannock Chase
A century ago, a flag exchange took place between New Zealand troops and the Mayor of Stafford in the town’s Market Square.
The special event was attended by crowds and a huge banner was hung reading “We’ll not forget you” as a fond farewell was bid to New Zealand troops who had been based at Brocton Camp, on Cannock Chase during the First World War.
Now true to their word – 100 years on from that day – the people of Staffordshire have replicated the flag exchange as a special war memorial was unveiled on Cannock Chase honouring the New Zealanders.
Yesterday’s event was attended by New Zealand’s High Commissioner to the UK, Sir Jerry Mateparae, and Commander of the New Zealand Defence Force, Tony Masters.
The memorial, called the Ngā Tapuwae Heritage Sign, was unveiled outside the Great War hut at Cannock Chase Visitor Centre.
Guests also included deputy Lord Lieutenant for Staffordshire colonel Chris Comport and Mercian Regiment soldiers. Sir Mateparae said: “This has provided the opportunity to remember the men and also the local community. It was very much a special occasion.”
It is believed between 1,500 and 2,000 troops from the New Zealand Rifles Brigade were stationed at Brocton Camp, on Cannock Chase, from 1917 to May 1919.
The riflemen of the brigade were considered some of New Zealand’s elite forces and had already served in France and Belgium.
In Staffordshire, the soldiers enjoyed excellent training facilities.
The British Army’s Scout and Sniping School was based at Rugeley and there was practice trenches located across the Cannock Chase.
Among the troops based on Cannock Chase was lance corporal Samuel Frickleton, who won the Victoria Cross.
He disabled two German machine guns at the Battle of Messines, Belgium, in 1917. He injured his arm and hip as bullets rained down on him but survived. His bravery won him the prestigious military honour.
His grandson Mark, aged 63 from Wellington, New Zealand, was also at yesterday’s service and said: “He was very badly injured – but survived the war. He later went back to New Zealand. He died in 1971 at the age of 80.
“My grandfather would have appreciated this memorial but I think he would have been surprised by this sort of thing.” At the visitor centre today is a hut which was used by the New Zealand troops as a barracks during the First World War. Another hut was given to the troops in 1918 by Walsall town council in partnership with the YMCA.
The memorial event was organised by The Chase Project in association with the New Zealand High Commission and Staffordshire County Council.
Reverend John Davis MBE, the Staffordshire County chaplain, said: “It is so important to remember the sacrifices that men, not just from Great Britain but from all over the Commonwealth, and particularly New Zealand, made in defeating the tyranny of the First World War.
“We are very proud in Staffordshire that the New Zealand Rifle Brigade was based here and we are the custodians of 73 graves of New Zealand men.”
Also in the crowd was former solider Ron Mattison, 93, of Essington.
He fought in the Second World War as a lance corporal with the Scottish Cameronians. He came dressed in a First World War uniform and wearing a solider’s hat known as a ‘lemon squeezer’. Roy said: “It is a wonderful tribute to the New Zealanders.”