Britain's Largest and Longest Running
Anzac Ceremony, Cannock Chase.
In 2007 The Chase Project members Lee Dent and Richard Pursehouse re-discovered the terrain model of Messines on Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. The archaeological excavation in 2013 managed to excavate
around seventy five percent of the area (the archaeologists unfortunately ran out of time), which measured over 40 yards square (see NZ WFA Bulletin October 2014). Since the end of the excavation Lee and Richard have continued their research on the men on the New Zealand Rifle Brigade who constructed the 'cement mortar' model in 1918 as a training aid, nearly a year after they had successfully captured the town of Messines in
Belgium. Their research has uncovered some fascinating stories as well as a serendipitous discovery - the 'long lost' War Diary of the 5th Reserve Battalion based at Cannock Chase.
In January 2015,after a seven year search, Lee and Richard finally tracked down the War Diaries of the 5th (Reserve) Battalion of the New Zealand Rifle Brigadecovering their time on Cannock Chase, with the help of a contact (Geoff McMillan) in New Zealand.Looking for details on ANZAC Day, Lee and Richard read an entry in the diary for April 1918 that corroborated a story they had first come across in the local newspapers about an
explosion during training -and how there were very nearly an additional two New Zealand soldiers to the seventy three buried on Cannock Chase.
Staffordshire Newsletter 1921 reporting on the ANZAC ceremony on Cannock Chase
The ANZAC ceremony at Cannock Chase Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery (the largest ceremony outside Australia and New Zealand), will this yearpoignantly commemorate the centenary of the ANZAC landings (April 25th 1915) at Gallipoli. The very first ceremony at Cannock Chase was – according the 5th (Reserve) Battalion‟s War Diary – held in 1918, the sports and social events organised for the day described in the Chronicles of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force as the „third anniversary of the never-to-be-forgotten
'Anzac day'. When the New Zealand troops returned home in June 1919, the local people took it upon themselves to remember 'The Fallen' in a simple ceremony, which has been upheld every year since.
The first timeanywhere in the world harakeke crosses (a flax plant indigenous to New Zealand) were placed on the graves of New Zealand troops was at Cannock Chase. DoloresHo, the archivist at the National Army Museum in Wouiaru, New Zealand, who has been patiently helping Lee and Richard in their research on the
Messines model, asked Lee and Richardto place the crosses, incorporating Returned Services Association poppies, on the graves in 2008. In 2011 Dolores made a personal trip to the cemetery to place her Crosses on the graves and was asked to place the Western Front Association wreath on the Cross of Sacrifice.Since April 2008 the Dolores Cross Project has expanded from the initial “one off” on Cannock Chase to involve hundreds of volunteers in honouring New Zealanders buried across the world.This year Geoff McMillan, a relative of Rifleman 68982 Charles McMillan who is buried on Cannock Chase, has been asked by Dolores Ho to bring with himon his pilgrimage from New Zealand the 73 hand crafted
Dolores Crosses for the New Zealanders buried at Cannock CWGC. Geoff has been asked to place the U.K
Western Front Association wreath on the Cross of Sacrifice at Cannock for the ceremony in 2015.
The Anzac ceremony on Cannock Chase
is funded and organised by the South Staffordshire Royal British Legion,
which will take place on
Sunday to 24 April 2016 at 9.30am
Lee, Richard and Geoff McMillan will be placing the Dolores Crosses on the graves the day before the ceremony.