At Rugeley we’re on the doorstep of Cannock Chase, a designated area of outstanding natural beauty boasting 26 square miles of mixed woodland with large areas of coniferous and heathland.
Its features made it ideal, throughout both wars, as an area for training the soldiers about to be sent overseas. We decided to walk a very small part of the Chase, one fine evening in August, to view a few of the historical sites that are still evident from the encampments of the First World War.
Nine of us, accompanied by two dogs who know the area well, set out on an hour’s walk from nearby the Marquis Drive visitor centre. The first remains we came across were the filter beds of the sewage works for one of the two huge camps, each of which was occupied by about 20,000 men at a time. Over the four years of the Great War, around half a million men were trained here. The sewage works, and a cast-iron drain cover that we later saw half a mile away, are a reminder that these extensive camps were far better serviced with electricity, water, drainage etc than the average domestic dwelling of that time.
Our route took us around the perimeter of a1,000-bed hospital – great ranks of wooden huts – built to care for wounded soldiers brought back sell-shocked patients. There’s now little remaining – just some concrete foundations and the flagpole base which you see in our photo.
All the wooden huts of the encampments have now disappeared – save one excellent reconstruction, fully equipped with military paraphernalia, which you can visit – but they were used for non-military purposes for years after the war was over. A village for local miners was established within some of them – Brindley Village – and our photos show the playground of a school that was subsequently established on the site for their children. In 1957 these huts were used to house 900 Hungarian refugees, escaping the failed revolution.
So you see, just a very short walk allowed us to see quite a lot of history. There’s much more here for anybody who would like to visit the many parts of this extensive and beautiful area.
Has your curiosity been piqued? You can find out more on the Cannock Chase website.