Terrain Model of Messines

Overview

Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1444078

Date first listed: 12-Jun-2017

Location Description: Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, SJ9787918984

Map

Ordnance survey map of Terrain Model of Messines
© Crown Copyright and database right 2018. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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Location

Location Description: Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, SJ9787918984

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Staffordshire

District: Stafford (District Authority)

Parish: Brocton

National Grid Reference: SJ9788118985

Summary

A topographical scale model of Messines Ridge in Belgium depicting the battleground of 7 June 1917 in the First World War. The model was created by the New Zealand Rifle Brigade at Brocton Training Camp in Cannock Chase in 1918 and has since been covered over.

Reasons for Designation

The Terrain Model of Messines in Cannock Chase, Staffordshire is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Period: the model is strongly representative of the First World War period, which had a huge impact on communities throughout the world. 10 per cent of the New Zealand population (100,000 people) fought in the war and the Terrain Model of Messines is testament to their significant role during the War, and to their determination to use the events of Messines for training purposes to bring a decisive end to the bloody conflict; * Rarity: this is the only terrain model known to have been constructed in England for training purposes during the First World War; * Documentation: the site is well understood due to extensive survey and evaluation in the early twenty-first century; * Group value: although most of the First World War training camp structures have been removed from Cannock Chase, some key related designated heritage assets remain in the wider area including a model trench system and a German Prisoner of War cemetery; * Survival/Condition: the below ground remains survive well and illustrate their original function; * Fragility/Vulnerability: in their current covered state their relatively robust construction is not vulnerable to rapid degradation; * Potential: the model retains the potential to further inform our understanding of First World War tactical engagements, including the Battle of Messines.

History

The Battle of Messines of 7-14 June 1917 was a significant Allied victory following the two-year stalemate in the Flanders campaign of the First World War. The Messines - Wytschaete ridge overlooked the British-occupied town of Ypres and had been controlled by German forces since November 1914. Messines was the first step in a campaign to push into the German controlled areas around the Ypres Salient, and was the prelude to the Third Battle of Ypres (the Battle of Passchendaele) of July to November 1917. The Battle of Messines was conducted by the British Second Army with II ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) and other Imperial divisions.

In September 1917 the New Zealand Rifle Brigade (NZRB), who had taken the town of Messines during the battle, were stationed at Brocton training camp on Cannock Chase. In 1918, members of the NZRB constructed a topographical terrain model of Messines using German prisoners of war as labour. The model depicts the New Zealand section of the Allied Line, including the town of Messines, largely as it stood on 7 June 1917. This three-dimensional model was created as an instructional aid to illustrate this successful battle and to prepare those arriving for training at the camp prior to their deployment to the Front. It also commemorated an important achievement in the conflict. The inclusion of a few extant buildings on the model (notably the town church) was a deviation from historical accuracy, probably to aid its instructional purpose. Messines was retaken by German forces in April 1918, before it was finally secured by the Allies in September of that year.

The terrain model was donated to the town of Stafford by NZRB prior to their demobilisation in May 1919. It was a tourist attraction after the war and some alterations took place as part of a ‘tidying up’ process associated with public visits. The model later became an overgrown feature in Cannock Chase and a layer of quarry waste was spread over it in the late C20, apparently to protect it from erosion. The site was excavated and surveyed in 2007 and 2013. This is the only such First World War terrain model known to survive in situ.

Details

PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS The monument is a topographic terrain model depicting the Belgian town of Messines (Mesen) and its immediate environs including its German defences at the time of the Battle of Messines in 7-14 June 1917. It is constructed on a natural sub-soil base covered in two layers of concrete. Further details and features are created using brick and pebbles set in concrete. The site was the subject of survey and excavations in 2007 and 2013 and was subsequently reburied.

DETAILS A scale model of part of the First World War battleground at Messines, constructed in 1918 for the instruction of troops prior to their deployment to the field of battle. It measures approximately 35m by 32m and was created using soil, pebbles, brick and concrete materials. The extent of the model is defined by drainage to all four sides, which was constructed at the same time as the model using either concrete (south), re-used brick and concrete slab (west) or pebble beds (north and east).

The sculpted base rises to a plateau towards the centre, on which the town of Messines is portrayed. The model slopes to the south and west to form the scarp slope of the Messines Ridge, and a dip slope falls gently to the east and north-east.

The principal features of the town and surrounding landscape are laid out in the sub-soil with the foundations of streets and buildings composed of fragments of brick, tile, pebbles and concrete. The surfaces between the model features have two skims of concrete, which survive in patches. Roads and other routes are marked with bunter pebbles set in wet concrete, principal roads being c.15cm wide and smaller routes c.10cm wide. Buildings in the town were mostly depicted as ruinous and only surviving to first-floor level. They were built using a variety of materials including re-used brick and pebbles. Details such as doorways are shown in some instances. The only buildings thought to have been built as complete structures were the church and a windmill known as Blauwen Molen. The 2013 excavation showed neither of these buildings to survive, although two ruinous buildings were in situ, Fanny’s Farm and the Sniper’s Nest. Other urban features are picked out in pebbles including yard surfaces and the town square. The model extends beyond the town to show the rural landscape including tracks and farmhouses, as well as extensive sets of First World War trenches. Most of the trenches, along with other features such as bunkers, depict the German defensive scheme and are concrete gullies, U-shaped in section. Trench railways supporting the German trenches are depicted as indented linear cement features. Allied (NZ) jumping off trenches are marked in the south-west part of the model.

The only known post-First World War feature on the site is the base of a hut constructed as a semi-sunken building in an eastern part of the model. It was used by a guardsman who conducted tours of the model. The foundations were constructed using reclaimed concrete from the area. The resurfacing of some part of the concrete skin to the model may be contemporary with the use of the hut.

The sub-base of the model lies largely intact under membrane, sand, mesh, soil and grass. Following full excavation in 2013 the model was reburied under these protective layers and model buildings were cushioned using bags of soil. The excavation produced only a small number of First World War artefact finds.

Sources

Other
Messines Model, Cannock Chase, Staffordshire: Excavation and Survey 2013, No Man's Land Archaeology for Staffordshire County Council, 2013

End of official listing