Tunnelling for victory in WW1

All welcome for the third in our series commemorating 100 years since the end of WW1

Robin Sanderson and Richard Crompton: ‘Tunnelling for victory in WW1’ – Tuesday 9 October

Dunsden Village Hall, RG4 9QG at 7.30pm – entry on door, £4 including refreshments.

Robin and Richard are descendants of WW1 tunnellers who have become active in researching the remarkable story of their relatives’ contribution to the British war effort.

Everybody damns the Tunneller; GHQ because he invariably has his job finished months before the rest of the Army are ready for the ‘Great Push’… Brass hats because they dislike his underground habits; Regimental officers because he refuses to allow them to use his deep and snug dugouts; Subalterns because of his superior knowledge; Tommy because… of his extra pay; and last and loudest, the Boche damn him because of his earnest and unceasing attempts at uplifting and converting them into surprised angels. It is also owing to his success in this noble work of the missionary that the Tunneller is highly respected by all branches of the forces’. [E Synton, 1918]

Hellfire Jack’ or John Norton-Griffiths, MP for Wednesbury, was an engineer who in 1913 formed the first Royal Engineers tunnelling companies by recruiting miners and Manchester sewer workers who he knew could tunnel faster and quieter than the Germans. By mid-1916 the British had around 25,000 trained tunnellers. Almost twice that number worked alongside them fetching and carrying essential elements of mining paraphernalia, pumping air and water and removing spoil. Parts of the Western Front became labyrinths of underground workings. Troops not directly involved in tunnelling knew little of the plans because leaks of information might lead not only to the wastage of colossal effort and the ruination of a plan, but the loss of many lives in the most hideous of circumstances: entombment, drowning, gassing or obliteration in cramped and claustrophobic galleries beneath no man’s land.

How did the tunnelling companies go about their epic work? This fascinating illustrated talk will also include the demonstration of a number of historic tunnelling artefacts.

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