Dig to uncover last remaining model of WW1 battlefield built in tribute to 50,000 killed comrades

Surviving soldiers from the Battle of Messines Ridge in 1917 made the mock battlefield - complete with trenches, dugouts and wire - on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, as a tribute to their dead colleagues

A dig is set to begin to uncover Britain's last remaining model of one of World War One's bloodiest battlefields.

Surviving soldiers from the Battle of Messines Ridge in 1917 made the mock battlefield - complete with trenches, dugouts and wire - on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, as a tribute to their dead comrades.

The scale model built by German prisoners of war, which was also used as a training camp ahead of the final push in WW1, is about to be excavated and reburied.

Archaeologists will begin charting the site - the only example of its kind left in the UK, which was planned out in painstaking detail by troops returning from the conflict which cost 50,000 lives.

Experts said the terrain model was built not only as a training aid for other soldiers at Brocton Camp, in Staffordshire, but in recognition at the horrific toll of slaughter the battle - fought around the landmark Messines ridge - took on the brigade.

The ridge formed an anchor in the German front lines but the week-long offensive of infantry attack, aerial bombardment and heavy shelling resulted in an Allied victory with four Victoria Crosses awarded to Empire soldiers for bravery during the fight.

The terrible human cost of the battle ran to 50,000 men killed, wounded or missing across both sides.

The battle was fought in the build-up to the much larger and far bloodier Passchendaele offensive which would begin in July of that year.

Staffordshire County Council, in a project funded by Natural England, is going to make a record of the model for future generations before re-covering the site on Cannock Chase in October.

Councillor Philip Atkins, county council leader, said Staffordshire was proud of its military heritage as the home of the National Memorial Arboretum and now was the right time to carry out the dig with the centenary of the war's outbreak falling next year.

Part of the Messines terrain model on Cannock Chase. (PA)
He said: 'We see ourselves very much as custodians of the land and of the memories it holds, and this is a wonderful opportunity to bring the site back to life.'

The model was built by German prisoners of war, supervised by the New Zealanders, and then rendered in concrete.

It includes small-scale reconstructions of Messines village's buildings, including its church, together with trench positions, railway lines, roads, and accurate contours of the surrounding terrain.

Mr Atkins said: 'The idea to build a scale model was a stroke of genius and undoubtedly played a huge role in preventing the deaths of thousands of more men.

'Due to the location, scale and fragile nature of the model it is impossible for it to be moved or left uncovered, but for a brief moment in time we all be able to share with the nation, memories of a piece of Staffordshire which helped change the course of history.'

Preparatory work on the site is starting today with the dig taking place next week.