The mothers and daughters of Cannock Chase

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The military cemeteries on Cannock Chase are much visited, sombre, beautiful places of respect and contemplation. Imagery from Google Maps.

After I published the piece about Cannock Chase from 1925 that Peter “Pedro’ Cutler found in the Lichfield Mercury archives – ‘This wild land of heather and gorse‘ – readers seem to have become very engaged with matters concerning Cannock Chase.

This was further expanded when top local history blogger Susan Marie Ward donated some scans of essays from a 1933 book of essays about Cannock Chase, first published as articles in the Express & Star written under the name Pitman, whom we are told is one M. Wright.

The article I featured a week or so ago ‘Hare and Gone’ about the legend of Dick Slee, his ‘cave’ and his freind the hare garnered a great deal of comment and interest, so today, I thought I’d feature this interesting piece on the war cemeteries at Anson Bank from the same book.

Susan has scanned several more articles from the book, for which I thank her most profusely. This is lovely writing and I’m very pleased to be able to share it here.

Comments welcome: here, or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

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This is a fine place, as shown by the excellent work of photographer SPJ58 on Panoramio. Click on the image to visit their gallery.

WHERE FRIENDS & FOES ARE LAID.

Map-makers have for many years given Cannock Chase the doubtful Arnott’s Grave and Deakin’s Grave—which commentators say really preserve the word grove and not grave—but on the upland of Anson’s Bank, a mile from Pye Green, is now the Military Cemetery where rest over three hundred men who died in the Cannock Chase Military Camps during the Great War years.

Friends and foes are within the acre enclosure. There are two hundred and twenty German, seventy-three New Zealanders, and the remainder are men of English regiments. All the men were buried in 1917-1919, and the overwhelming majority of them fell victims of the influenza scourge of November and December, 1918.

Grave-diggers were busy at Anson’s Bank in those alarming months, and day by day the sad majestic strains of Chopin’s Funeral March was heard as bands headed the solemn processions.

All the Germans were prisoners of war, and of the Britons some had been invalided from France and others were preparing for service in the field.

In all but a few cases a simple headstone tells the meagre facts about the men.   A broken shaft rises on a pedestal on which is an inscription revealing in a few words the magnificent manner in which the sons of Empire from overseas rallied to the call of the Motherland. The names of four New Zealand soldier brothers are given, one of whom succumbed to influenza on Cannock Chase at the age of eighteen.

In the centre of the cemetery is a lofty cross erected by the War Graves Commission, and as seasons of the year come round daffodils, gorse, bluebells, willow-herb and heather are festooned around the base of the memorial by people who come from neighbouring towns and villages. They are the mothers and daughters of Cannock Chase who have a tender regard for the memory of the husbands, sons and brothers of other women in far-away homes. ‘I am very sorry I shall not be able to come any more to put flowers on the graves, for now I am eighty-five I find it is too far for me to come six miles to the cemetery,” wrote one dear lady who had for twelve years done her kindly remembrance deeds.

Here on Anzac Day there is a special remembrance of the New Zealanders, and flowers are also laid on the graves of the Englishmen and the Germans.

Rhododendrons have a profusion of bloom in springtime, and in autumn there are large beds of purple heather. On Anson’s Bank the skylarks seem to give their songs a richer note.

For miles around extends the rolling Chase, and there is quietude in a corner of Cannock Chase which, for many families a dozen thousand miles over-seas, is for ever New Zealand.

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