Blogger: GemSen One of the great wonders of the First World War and rarely discussed is how Britain drastically increased the size of its small soldiery into a mass citizen army. This meant that millions of working-class men, agricultural workers and middle-class clerks all had to pull together and train to become a force ready for battle in a very short amount of time. Thousands of soldiers would have used mock training camps to prepare for battle, ahead of the ‘1914-18’ war.
Bringing this crucial but often forgotten aspect of the First World War to light is the excavation of a model battle site that was once used to help train soldiers for the conflict. The model battle site in Brocton on Cannock Chase in Staffordshire was built by German prisoners of war and replicates the village and surrounding area of Messines in Belgium. It was constructed under the supervision of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade — based on their experiences of the Battle of Messines Ridge in June 1917. It was used as a training ground in the build-up to the much larger battle of Passchendaele. The WWI training aid included dugouts, trenches, barbed wire, railway lines, roads and accurate contours of the surrounding terrain. Utterly unprepared… In training camps men were taught individual and unit discipline, how to march, follow commands, basic field skills and how to safely handle his weapons. Many men arrived at the fighting fronts utterly unprepared for the experience. In Great Britain, the training facilities of the regular army were soon overwhelmed by the numbers of men being recruited in 1914 and after conscription was introduced in 1916. It was obvious that more training places and accommodation was needed and large public buildings such as church and local halls, schools and warehouses were taken over at first. Usually they were offered up by the local authority, church wardens etc, and thousands of men were also housed in private homes. In time, new camps were eventually constructed and some of them were huge — with their own post offices, canteens, hospitals, etc. The main ones were at Salisbury Plain, Nottinghamshire (Clipstone being the main centre), East Anglia, the North Wales coast, and Cannock Chase in Staffordshire, which is due to be excavated by archaeologists. Experts are planning to use a laser-scanning device at the Cannock Chase training aid to produce a 3D computer image. During the archaeological dig, trenches and dug outs are likely to be excavated to find out much more about how the soldiers were trained. After the war Cannock Chase was maintained as a memorial to soldiers who died in the Battle of Messines Ridge in June 1917 — one of the most successful Allied offensives of WWI. Staffordshire County Council told the BBC that after WWI it became a tourist attraction before becoming deserted and overgrown. Before being recently rediscovered by archaeologists it was part of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. ''There were numerous Great War camps around the country but this one is special because most camps were either on agricultural land or part of existing camps,” said Stephen Dean, principal archaeologist at Staffordshire County Council. “After the war, a lot of those were either built over in the 1930s and 40s, or if they were agricultural land, they were ploughed. “This is one of the few that was built on the then Lord Lichfield’s land and because of that, huts were taken down and everything reverted to as it was previously – an estate. “So the camps themselves actually survive in pretty good condition.” Sources: BBC & 1914-1918.net Do you have an ancestor who fought during WWI? Why not log on to Forces War Records and search our vast collection of records, including those from WWI, to find out more about your own ancestors – there could be a war hero in your family just waiting to be discovered and remembered… Alternatively, if you're interested in history then delve into our ‘historic documents’ library and read some of the interesting war diaries that we get sent – there’s nothing quite like reading a personal account of war as history unfolds itself through the eyes of somebody who was actually there. Forces War Records are fortunate to receive such amazing real life war stories involving lashings of courage, and now you can read some of them – completely free of charge.