Freda the dog was a mascot for the New Zealand Rifle Brigade at Brocton Camp near Cannock Chase in Staffordshire during World War One. Although we know that she was a mascot to the brigade, much of Freda’s history is shrouded in mystery and is difficult to verify. There are two stories as to how Freda came to be a mascot of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade.
One story is that Captain Christopher Magnay was presented with a puppy in the local area, to which he brought back to Brocton Camp. Cannock Chase is a hunting area, so it is possible that Freda came from a local family who had hunting dogs.
Another story was that Sergeant Ashby came by a puppy. According to this version, Sergeant Ashby became friends with a local family, the Wrights. The Wrights ran a soldier’s club at the St John’s Institute and had a young daughter, Freda. In this version, it was the Wrights’ daughter whom Sergeant Ashby named the puppy after.
Although we are unable to confirm who first brought Freda back to Brocton camp, we have been able to confirm that Captain Magnay was her handler.
The Commanding Officer of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, Brigadier General Fulton took a shining to Freda and declared her the unit’s mascot. He also put Freda on regimental strength rations, which meant she got fed for her work as a mascot.
Not only is her arrival story unclear, but there is even conjecture over what type of dog she was. There are no known photographs of Freda, but it is presumed she was a Harlequin Great Dane, because she was a very large dog. Because she had black spots and white fur, many assumed that she was a Dalmatian.
According to military reports and letters home, Freda could be seen alongside the soldiers during their marches and was always keen to be a part of the ceremonial parades. Freda gave the New Zealand Rifle brigade soldiers much love and affection, and was a friendly distraction to the horrors of World War One.
In 1918, at the end of the war, Freda died and was buried at Brocton Camp near Cannock Chase. Her gravestone was battered by the weather and vandals over the years that followed. During the 1960s and 1970s, Freda’s headstone was restored twice thanks to the efforts of retired serviceman Fred Smith, the British Legion and Friends of Cannock Chase.
In 2001 a new headstone was made for Freda and a commemoration service was held. This was attended by over 70 locals with their dogs. Freda had now become an important personality for the Cannock Chase region.
In 2010 the Armistice commemoration was held at Freda’s grave and working dogs and their owners were invited to honour animals who served in the war.
Her collar was donated to the Army museum and over the past few years, many visitors have arrived form England hoping to catch a glimpse of a much treasured artefact.