Despatches Issue #4 (375KB) - March 2010
ANZAC Day 2010...
Despatches Issue #3 (310KB) - November 2009
Despatches Issue #2 (225KB) - July 2009
Hauraki District Mayor to visit Arras in August...
Despatches Issue #1 (240KB) - March 2009
Descendants of the New Zealand Tunnelling Company gather in Waihi...
Written by Anthony Byledbal
Few people know that in the First World War miners from Waihi enlisted and travelled to France where they fought on the front lines as they had worked in Waihi – underground.
Specialising in underground work, the New Zealand Tunnelling Company was created at the request of the British Imperial Government in September 1915. The German underground war required the armies of the Dominions to provide Tunnelling Companies to counteract this form of attack. In New Zealand labourers, quarrymen or miners including gold miners made up the ranks, along with civil engineers. Most of the tunnellers were from the North Island, and most of these came from Auckland and Waihi.
The Tunnelling Company Main Body and the First Reinforcement left New Zealand shores just before Christmas, on 18 December 1915 and arrived in Plymouth Harbour, England early in February 1916. Following a month's military training in Falmouth, the NZ Tunnellers arrived in France in March 1916. They were the first New Zealanders on the Western Front. From March to September 1916, they were engaged in war underground northeast of Arras in the Chanteclerc Sector. For six months, Tunnelling Company men created an underground system and provided a savage opposition to the German tunnellers.
In November 1916, the Company moved to Arras' centre and was billeted in caves under the Saint-Sauveur suburb. Up to April 1917, helped by 140 men of the British 184th Royal Engineers Tunnelling Company and by 43 members of the NZ (Maori) Pioneer Battalion, and English and Scots Infantrymen, the NZ Tunnellers connected and converted medieval underground quarries under the two suburbs of Ronville and Saint-Sauveur. Old underground quarries were converted to headquarters, billets, kitchens and a hospital. It was possible for the soldiers to go underground from Arras' centre to the German front line. NZ tunnels were used during the attack of April 9, 1917 by British armies during the Battle of Arras.
From June 1917 until July 1918, the NZ tunnellers worked in the construction of dugouts, machine gun emplacements and observation nests on the Arras front line. They arranged several hundred underground works to provide a little more comfort for infantrymen on the front. The proximity of the front line made this work very dangerous work.
The New Zealanders left Arras on July 15, 1918. The New Zealand Tunnelling Company changed its activities to bridge design and building. Inexperienced tunnellers learned bridge building methods in a school in Normandy. They constructed more than ten bridges, the most well known being the Havrincourt bridge. This was the biggest bridge ever erected during the Great War, and was constructed in only eight working days.
The first men were demobilized in December 26, 1918. Miners enlisted in the Company, were urgently required back in New Zealand by mine managers. A lot of work waited for the Tunnellers on their return. Finally, on March 14, 1919, the rest of the New Zealand Tunnelling Company embarked for home on board the S.S. Ionic. On April 23, the men arrived in Auckland. The Tunnellers were home. The next day, the Tunnelling Company ceased to exist and these heroes were largely forgotten.
As part of his thesis, Anthony Byledbal, PhD student in University of Artois (Arras) in France, has been working on the history of the New Zealand Tunnelling Company and men who composed this unit. His research includes a short biography of the life of each of the men of the Tunnelling Company. This study includes the social and military history of men before, during and after Great War and the culture of war.
Left to right: Bob Kavanagh, Jack Norris, Jim Roycroft, Joe Quintal underground in Waihi. Jack and Jim in the black singlets were members of the New Zealand Tunnelling Company.
© Go Waihi Inc., 2011 - All material in this website is copyright to Go Waihi Inc.unless specifically stated.
None of the contents may be reproduced without the express permission of Go Waihi Inc.