The War Effort of New Zealand
The Brocton Camp
The Brocton Camp.
Brocton, the camp of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, was situated on the northern edge of Cannock Chase, County Staffordshire. It was perched on a hill. Out back of it, in a succession of deep valleys and rising hills, stretched the heather-clad moorland of the famous Chase. Away in the page 254distance, reached by a road climbing out of a valley, and winding yellow over the dark-green moors, was Walsall. On the other side of the camp, to the north, the land fell gently down past the "Tommy" camp, in the near distance, to a homely, attractive scene of red-bricked farmhouses, winding lanes and thick green hedges, and spreading trees, where the men loved to walk. At times a boisterous wind howled fortissimo through the camp, swirling dust along in summer, and snow in winter; but the air at other times was bracing and the outlook healthy. Birmingham was not very far away in the south, and Stafford town five miles distant by road. The New Zealand camp comprised about a hundred acres. Shortly after the war broke out the Imperial authorities established a largo infantry camp there, and it was a portion of this camp that we took over. The village of Brocton, from which the camp and the railway-station half a mile away took their name, was quite handy. The whole of this area was in the Northern Command, in charge of which was the late Lieut.-General Davies, a New Zealander, who will be remembered as at one time in charge of military affairs here. His headquarters were half a mile from the camp. On the outskirts of the New Zealand section six thousand Germans spent a lazy internment behind barbed wire—well fed, underworked, splendidly housed, and sometimes insolent, though, after one memorable incident, not to New Zealanders!
The surroundings of Brocton were pleasanter than those of Sling. From the days of its establishment the Rifle Brigade entered with enthusiasm into the task of making it a model camp. And this recalls that at Brocton, more than any other New Zealand camp, was noticeable a keener interest in the camp itself. Men and officers seemed to take a delight in inventing and installing little improvements here and there—little things that added character to a camp. "Tin-Town" the camp was termed because of the tin huts. The latter were roomy, clean, lit with electricity, and warmed with a centrally placed coal-stove. The dining-halls and cookhouses differed very little from those at Sling. You saw the same glossy stove in the centre of a white and shining cookhouse, page 255around the walls of which had been stencilled, in black, as a mural decoration, the badge of the regiment. Sergeants' messes were common to all camps, but Brocton had its corporals' messes as well. In amusements and attractions generally Brocton was well provided for. The Y.M.C.A., as usual, figured prominently. In its large hall was shown the camp's own cinema, which, together with the dynamo and oil-engine, were purchased out of the camp regimental funds, and set up by experts found in the camp. The men ran it themselves a certain number of nights per week. Concert performances by camp talent were encouraged in every way. No fewer than seven billiard tables were available in the camp, and music-making was assisted by seven pianos.
This should indicate the spirit of Brocton camp—true camaraderie between all ranks, and pride in the Brigade. The details of training were very much the same as at Sling. The men were apportioned into companies, usually under a captain or lieutenant who had seen service. The companies comprised one battalion under a commanding officer, generally a major, and over the whole was the group, or camp Commandant. The training was carried out under the group system—with one set of instructors for the whole camp. The musketry courses were fired at ranges in the moorlands.
Cultivation was carried out round the camp, and, as at Sling, the supply of vegetables was the better because of this industry, and the cost of administration was considerably lessened to the people of New Zealand.