The fictional story 'The Anzac Puppy' was inspired a by a series of true events that took place during the Great War of 1914-18.
While at a training camp in England, the New Zealand Rifle Brigade regiment had an official mascot, a Harlequin Great Dane known as Freda. She was acquired in the Staffordshire region by a soldier named Sergeant Ashby and taken back to the ANZAC base at Brocton Camp. There she was put on regimental strength rations, and made the unit’s mascot.
During this time, Sergeant Ashby was befriended by a local family who ran a soldier’s club at the St John’s Institute. Sergeant Ashby immediately struck up a friendship with their young daughter Freda, and her living relatives have confirmed that it is most likely that he named the puppy after her. In 1918 Sergeant Ashby sent a Christmas postcard to the young girl called Freda which included a photograph of the now fully grown dog. This is the only photograph of the ANZAC mascot in existence.
Military reports confirm that the plucky mascot was well known throughout the Cannock Chase region and was often seen leading the soldiers during their regular route marches. She was also an enthusiastic participant in the camp’s ceremonial parades.
During her time at Brocton, Freda provided much love, warmth and friendship to the Kiwi soldiers who were living through one of the most troubling times in history.
Unlike so many of the soldiers she served with, Freda safely lived to see the end of the Great War.
For nearly half a century, the only memory of this special dog was a chiselled out headstone that rested above a lonely grave in the corner of a field in Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, England.
In 1965, retired serviceman Fred Smith led a campaign to restore and renovate Freda’s gravesite.In 2001 a special headstone was created by the Friends of Cannock Chase and a commemoration service was held in her honour. Freda’s studded collar, which bore the inscription ‘Freda of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade’, is now in the Army Museum at Waiouru, New Zealand, but what still remains a mystery is how the collar managed to cross the world to the museum.
I hope my picture book will reignite interest in Freda's history and help keep her memories alive for future generations.
* Special thanks to Marion Kettle for her outstanding research on Freda and the ANZACs of Brocton Camp.