My first Anzac Day ceremony in the UK

What an amazing 2 days I've just had!

On Sat 17 April, I visited the CWGC cemetery at Cannock Chase – where the first Dolores Cross were placed in 2008. It was a moving experience to place the 73 crosses on the graves ready for the Anzac Day ceremony the next day. I felt privileged to have a moment of quiet reflection as each grave received a tenderly placed Dolores Cross and poppy. I whispered softly to the spirits of the fallen men - “I have brought a part of New Zealand to you”. The experience was made all the more wonderful as I was able to meet up with Brian, one of the most hardworking volunteers of the project.

Yesterday, I again felt priviledged to be part of the Anzac Day commemorations at Cannock Chase, England. The weather was fantastic – warm and hardly a breeze. Upon my arrival, Mike Morris from the Royal British Legion, and organiser of the ceremony invited me to lay a memorial wreath on behalf of the Western Front Association after. I was humbled by the opportunity.

As the last notes of the Last Post sounded, I took a deep breath and slowly approached the Cross of Sacrifice and gently laid the wreath at its feet. Stepping back, I bowed my head and said a private word to remember those who are buried here. My thoughts focused on the wasted youth of so many men and their amazing sacrifice for peace in our lands. In that moment, there was peaceful silence save for the gentle rustle of the wind and birds twittering in the trees.

At the end of the ceremony, I met many, many people who were all very friendly and welcoming, with several asking “Are you Dolores from New Zealand?”. I was touched that people were aware and interested in the project.

The day would not be complete without a pint at the local pub. So myself and various project volunteers Richard, Lee, Kevin, Brian, and Chrissie heading down to the Barley Mow for some classic British pub food and drink. The Barley Mow was, during the war, a pub that served those stationed at the camp. I noted that the pub was run by a female manager, which made me wonder if it also provided some "female entertainment" to the soldiers :-)

Once the party left the pub, we went to visit the grave of Freda, the Harlequin Great Dane mascot of the 3rd New Zealand Rifle Brigade. Freda died in late 1918 and had been buried between the huts that had been home for the NZ soldiers. I have a personal soft spot for this wonderful old lady. At her grave, I placed a large Dolores Cross and said a private few words to Freda. And so the last tribute of the day was completed.

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