Over the past few weeks a remarkable archeological project as been underway near Brocton, on Cannock Chase. When I first heard about it, I was a little sceptical, as although I had known about the existence of the Messines Model Village for a couple of years, I had grave doubts that any of it still remained.
How wrong I was. Over the course of what has been an astounding dig, mainly performed by volunteers, the model has revealed itself.
Readers who follow the blog closely will know that contributor David Evans has a great knowledge of, and interest in the history of the Great War, and has been up to Brocton Field to find out about this wonderful piece of history.
The model will be reburied very soon, I believe, so if you want to see it, get up there quick. It’s up off the Chase Road, near the Glacial Boulder. To get there, drive up past the Pye Green radio tower, past Springslade Lodge and the war cemeteries and turn off right onto Chase Road.
I wonder if your readers have been able to visit the archeological dig that has been ongoing at the site of the First World War New Zealander’s Army camp in Cannock Chase? This amazing scale model of the area surrounding the village of Messines in Belgium was constructed in the Army camp itself by German Prisoners of War, and was used to familiarise the soldiers with the terrain, German trenches, and lines of barbed wire that they would face in the major offensive of the summer of 1917.
I had known that such a large battlefield model had been built and used during the conflict, but thought it had been lost forever and destroyed when the Army Camp had been demolished after the end of the war. Purely by chance a few days ago, I came across the dig on Brocton Field, and was able to talk to some of the team of archeologists who had worked so hard to reveal this scale model.
I have visited the village of Messines on many occasions in the last thirty years or so, and could recognise the features in the model that had been painstakingly unearthed. The nearby beck in the shallow valley; the road which lead from Ploegsteert to the South; the village buildings standing high on the ridge.
The official records of that major offensive make grim and terrifying reading, and the model could not give an accurate warning of the final slope of the defenses or the hidden machine-gun posts.
As we know, the battlefield was a hellish place for all the combatants and even nowadays this is a cold, desolate corner of Belgium. Now all is at peace, with the fields returned to agriculture, the road to the village open and wide, lush hop fields by the roadside all the way from Ploegsteert woods, and the little beck flowing steadily as it always did. To the west the line of trees is there again, the only signs of this awful battle being remains of the huge craters, now filled with water.
Unexploded ordnance is still being unearthed, after nearly a century this land is still dangerous in places.
There is now a Peace Park on the edge of the village, a tranquil space with a tall, slender Irish tower. From here it is a gentle stroll around the slopes to the new Zealand Military cemetery, inside the last line of defenses.
The model in the former New Zealand Army Camp, high up on the windswept Cannock Chase, is a sight which brings a coldness and an unexpected shiver to the spine, and yes, a sadness and anger too at the human conflict and waste of life it embodies.
This is a wonderful and unusual archeological project, soon to be re-buried when the dig ends on Monday.
To the entire team of archeologists, helpers and other volunteers who have toiled so hard to bring this piece of history to our eyes, I salute you all. A valuable and amazing thing.