(Image: Frank Smith. Faithful dog Freda’s grave on Cannock Chase)
In a peaceful corner of Cannock Chase, not far from Coppice Hill, lies the grave of a working dog named Freda, who died in 1918. Freda is understood to be a harlequin Great Dane, though other reports suggest she was a Dalmatian. Her origins are equally mysterious, and two different accounts have persisted.
What we do know is that the much-loved Freda served as the regimental mascot of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, which was based in south Staffordshire during the First World War. It’s been claimed the dog was adopted by ANZAC soldiers while fighting in France, who then took their beloved pet with them when they returned to their English base.
(Image: Michael Marsh)
New Zealand History, however, writes that “the New Zealand Rifle Brigade was stationed with the Brigade at Cannock Chase, near Brocton in England. The 5 (Reserve) Battalion had been at Brocton since September 1917, and Freda was probably acquired there.”
The website adds: “Another story is that Freda was picked up and adopted as the brigade mascot in France, accompanying the unit back to Cannock Chase in 1918. According to a local historian, Freda had provided warmth and companionship to New Zealand soldiers amidst the death and destruction of the Western Front battlefields.”
(Image: Bill Boaden)
Perhaps the truth lies in both accounts; it’s worth noting that the global influenza pandemic of 1918 contributed to the death of some 50 members of the Brigade, who were interred at the Cannock Chase War Cemetery. It seems likely that Freda’s presence did indeed offer comfort to these men, albeit miles from the battlefields of northern France, before she herself died in October or November of that year.
When Freda died in 1918, around the end of the Great War, soldiers of the the New Zealand Rifle Brigade buried her at this pleasant spot near their billet. A marble headstone bearing her name was erected in 1964 by the Friends of Cannock Chase, and over the decades her grave has been tended by local villagers.
(Image: via Wikimedia Commons. A harlequin Great Dane pictured in 1910)
But that wasn’t the end of Freda’s story, as New Zealand troops took more than just memories of their faithful canine companion back to their homeland. According to the BBC: “Her collar and lead are still kept at New Zealand’s National Army Museum in Waiouru.”
Freda isn’t the only animal mascot featured on Urban Ghosts. Several years ago we recounted the heroic tale of Timothy the Tortoise, the last survivor of the Crimean War, who died in 2004 at the age of about 165. Timothy (a female tortoise despite her name) was discovered aboard a Portuguese privateer in 1854 and went on to “serve” aboard a number of Royal Navy vessels, including HMS Queen, a first-rate ship of the line.
(Image: Jeannette. Timothy the Tortoise at Powderham Castle)
Timothy took retirement in 1892 at Powderham Castle, the home of the Earl of Devon. She was buried near her home in the rose garden and, among other accolades, will be remembered as the only tortoise present at the siege of Sevastopol.