(OS Grid Ref: SJ 979 188)
Following a signpost engraved with the letters 'FG' and later 'Fredas Grave' we made our way to this small memorial, simply markes meml on the OS map.
Freda was a very much loved Dalmation dog and mascot of New Zealand Rifle Brigade, which was stationed with the Brigade at Cannock Chase, near Brocton in England. The 5th (Reserve) Battalion had been at Brocton since September 1917, and it is believed Freda was acquired at this time. A more fanciful theory is that Freda was picked up and adopted as the brigade mascot in France, providing warmth and companionship to New Zealand soldiers amidst the death and destruction of the Western Front battlefields, before accompanying the unit back to Cannock Chase in 1918.
The New Zealand Rifle Brigade, affectionately known as The Dinks, was formed on 1st May 1915 as the 3rd Brigade of the New Zealand Division, part of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. During the first World War it fought in Egypt, against the Senussi, and then on the Western Front. In the last days of the Great War the Brigade fought during Hundred Days Offensive at the Battle of Sambre, (the officer and poet Wilfred Owen was killed during the offensive as he crossed the Sambre-Oise Canal at the head of a raiding party). For their part in the battle members of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade liberated the town of Le Quesnoy after they scaled the walls of this medieval fortress using ladders. In appreciation the Mayor of Le Quesnoy presented a banner and letter of thanks for the deliverance of the town to the Brigade. This compliment was reciprocated on the 14th November 1918 when General Hart and his staff presented to the town of Le Quesnoy a New Zealand flag to commemorate the victory, the Mayor was deeply moved, and on receiving the flag he caressed its folds and pressed it to his lips. In his remarks on formally accepting the gift, he stated that one of the principal streets of the town had been renamed in honour of the New Zealanders, and that an application had been made to the proper authorities for permission to add the New Zealand fern-leaf to the coat of arms of the city, this being the highest honour that it was in their power to confer.
While it may not be true that Freda was found in France and perhaps once padded along the cobbled streets of Le Quesnoy, the men encamped upon Cannock Chase faced an equally dangerous enemy when the global influenza pandemic arrived in October 1918. The Cannock Chase War Cemetery is now the resting place for about 50 members of the brigade who 'died of disease' between late October and late November 1918. It was at this time that Freda also died and was buried at Cannock Chase. Members of the brigade erected a headstone in her memory. For the next 20 years, townspeople of nearby Brereton kept Freda's grave tidy, laying crosses and flowers each year. After it was vandalised, the Friends of Cannock Chase laid a new marble headstone in her honour in 1964. The headstone was renewed again in 2001, and the grave remains a feature of historical tours.
The New Zealand Rifle Brigade was disbanded on 4th February 1919 and Freda's collar was returned to New Zealand where it is held at the National Army Museum at Waiouru.