Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Journey in memory of a tunneler...

When we began our current trip we had a specific personal goal in mind: to re-visit the grave of a great uncle of mine who had died in World War 1. I blogged some time ago on Uncle Jack, and we first visited his grave in 2004. He was a New Zealand tunneler who is buried in Arras, at Fauborg d'Amiens in Arras. Jack died on 2 October 1917. We made a personal commitment to getting back there to do two things: to place a poppy against his headstone, and deposit a photo of him in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission register. We managed both of these.

What we hadn't noticed on our first visit was the headstone of another tunneler from the NZ Tunneling Company who died on the same day.

You see, I am intrigued to know how Uncle Jack died. Why? I'm not really sure; perhaps morbid curiosity; perhaps it's just that I will feel that as one of the millions who died, he would at least like his family to know what happened. And now there are possibly two men involved in this puzzle. I have looked at official records and unit diaries, but at this stage have no idea what happened.

It was poignant to stand there again, and yes Jack and I had a wee chat I guess. It was hard to walk away actually, and I have to admit to having placed a hand on the stone for a few brief moments before we left.

In 2007, on the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Arras, a special memorial was opened that paid tribute to the work of the NZ Tunneling Company. These men were given the task of taking the centuries old tunnels that had been used to extract the chalk rock, and develop these into rest areas for 20000 men prior to the Battle of Arras that started on 9 April 1917. The NZers added 20km of tunnels, and built caverns that were capable of holding these 20000 men. The memorial (it';s not just to the kiwis) included the opening up of some of these tunnels, including the 'Wellington' chamber that held 1500 men (the 'Christchurch' tunnel was apparently capable of holding 4500 men.. wow!!)

The entrance to the memorial 'Carriere Wellington'.

Sleeping quarters.

Lorraine standing at what is believed to be the site of an underground church service held before the assault on 9 April.

Underground latrines.

One of 15 'exit' points from which troops emerged very close to the German front lines to start their assault.


  1. U r reminding me of my visit to Paschendale, Wipers, Whitesheet etc a couple of years ago. I remember gazing into the big pothole on the Messines Ridge. Young James and I went to see Beneath Hill 60 at the movies yesterday!

    Had dinner with Mr Peter Blobby and Jo on Saturday night! That boy needs some exercise before he gets married.

    Look forward to the next report. May finally make it to Normandy next year.

    C u at Conquest next month.

  2. Steve

    Had a great day looking around some of the Ypres areas today, and more in depth investigation tomorrow..

    We'd hoped to do the same with Pete and Jo but obviously timings didn't work with our trip.. once he gets back finally in December. Lorraine and I think we'll pop up to Welly to do some digging in Nat Archives over the summer too. Saw Hill 60 on the plane .. thought it was very good.

    Kind regards