Training staff from the New Zealand Rifle Brigade at Brocton Camp

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Date:November 1917

Description:These ANZAC (New Zealand) soldiers belonging to the New Zealand Rifle Brigade (NZRB) were the Physical and Bayonet Training Staff attached to Brocton Camp.

After fighting at the Somme and at the Messines Ridge, the NZRB were considered a valuable source of combat experience. Consequently, the 5th Battalion was transferred to Brocton Camp in September 1917 to train fresh drafts (this image is dated November 1917). This was to be their home and headquarters until their return to New Zealand in May 1919.

Named the ‘Cannock Chase Reserve Centre’ the camp was commanded by Major-General Davies. One of the training staff, ‘Robbie’ Robertson later wrote

‘Some four miles away was the historic county-town of Stafford whose people proved to be eminently kindly and hospitable. The camp itself was thoroughly equipped for all branches of general and specialist training, the open spaces offered ample scope for close order work, while the climatic conditions, combined with the nature of the soil, gave a realistic touch to the frequent rehearsals in trench routine and attack and defence.’

Most instructors were seasoned veterans and various inspections praised the work of the brigade in training recruits. General training included: formal drill, bayonet fighting, protection against gas, physical training, musketry and the all-night occupation of trenches. Specialists were also trained at the camp including Lewis gunners, signallers, scouts and bombers. Many of the features associated with these training regimes survive upon the Chase as earthworks including practice trenches and large rifle butts.

The ANZACs were nicknamed 'The Dinks' on the camp as they were considered to be good, honest (dinkum) soldiers. Their mascot was a Harlequin Great Dane dog named Freda, whose grave can still be seen on the site of the camp.

Tragically, in the Autumn of 1918 the Spanish Flu epidemic swept through the camp, claiming over 70 of the New Zealanders and over 200 of the German POW's housed there. Their graves are in the Cannock Chase War Cemetery.

The alternate view is a digitally colourised version of the image.

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Source: Mr Jake Whitehouse

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