The Archaeology of the Camps
Brocton and Rugeley Camp
Archaeological remains are well known across Cannock Chase ranging from prehistoric monuments to medieval iron workings. However, the most extensive archaeological remains, although perhaps not the most obvious, relate to the two Great War training camps which occupied the Chase between 1915 and 1919. These were known as Brocton Camp and Rugeley Camp.
Archaeological survey and excavation commissioned by Staffordshire County Council and the Cannock Chase AONB Unit in 2006 revealed the extent of survival of the camps. The survey identified remains of former hut bases and other structures surviving as earthworks and concrete platforms. Many of the former roads and railways which served the camps survive fossilised within the existing footpath network or as upstanding earthwork features. The excavation of some of the rubbish dumps revealed evidence of everyday life on the Chase, from broken military issue crockery, beer and pop bottles and boot polish containers to spent drill rounds (examples of which can be seen on display at Marquis Drive and at The Museum of Cannock Chase). The remains of former practice trench systems that would have been used for training the troops based at Brocton and Rugeley also survive.
The Practice Trenches
At the beginning of the conflict both sides expected to be fighting a war of movement and indeed the British Army arrived with large numbers of cavalry. Following several inconclusive battles lines stabilised and dug down to avoid shell, sniper and machine gun fire. Combat experience and a developing understanding of conditions at the front filtered back to the training camps in France and England and troops were instructed in the location, construction defence and attack of trenches.
Front line trenches were typically constructed in a pattern which in plan resembled battlements (also known as the Greek Key pattern) with the intention that attackers were fired upon from three sides. Conversely communication trenches connecting the front line with reserve trenches were built in a zig-zag pattern. This ensured that if the front line trenches fell the enemy would not have a clear line of sight down the length of the 'communication' trench and could therefore not enfilade (fire straight at) approaching reinforcements.
The earthwork remains of a quarter-scale trench system survives on the Chase. The system is made up of a series of zig-zag trenches similar to those seen on the Western Front and was thought to have been dug for training troops based on the chase. A recent archaeological survey has identified further, extensive trench systems survive across the Chase dug in the familiar 'Greek Key' and zig-zag patterns.
The Messines Model
One of the most unusual features identified on the Chase is a scaled terrain model of a section of the Western Front. Other similar models were used in Flanders to instruct troops in advance of an offensive, however the one on Cannock Chase is thought to be the only surviving example of a Great War terrain model.
The model is thought to represent the village and environs of Messines in Belgium. The village occupying a ridge in the generally flat Belgium landscape formed a strategically important point in the German defensive line. The Messines Ridge therefore had to be captured to enable a wider campaign in the Ypres region and as such it was the scene of fierce fighting in 1917 . The battle included the assault and capture of the village of Messines by the New Zealand Rifle Brigade (NZRB) and the Messines model was constructed by members of the NZRB on their return from Belgium. The model served as a teaching aid but also as a memorial to one of the most successful offensives of the Great War.
The model is known to have survived during the inter-war years when it became a tourist attraction with a custodian who acted as a guide to the site . With the out break of the Second World War and the return of military training on the Chase the site became overgrown and eventually became buried. Recent archaeological survey and investigation has revealed that elements of the model survive as buried features.