The New Zealand Tunnelling Company: First On, Last Off. First Death.
By October 1918 1308 men had served in the New Zealand Engineers Tunnelling Company. The tunnellers were the first New Zealanders on the Western Front, arriving in France at midnight 9 March 1916. They were the last unit back home in April 1919. Apart from the Pioneer Battalion they were the only men who would return to New Zealand as a complete unit, and they returned after the Pioneers. Their ship the Ionic dropped anchor in Auckland Harbour at 9.00pm on April 23 and the Tunnellers disembarked on April 24, 1919.
Most of the tunnellers were quarrymen, miners from the Hauraki Goldfields, or labourers from the Railways and Public Works Departments. Others were coal miners from the West Coast. Waihi would supply the second largest group of men to enlist, with only Auckland providing more. The officers were drawn chiefly from the engineering staff of the Public Works Department, with a sprinkling of mining engineers.
During their period overseas they engaged in an underground war of countermining and secrecy. In preparation for the 1917 Battle of Arras New Zealand tunnellers created an extensive system of underground tunnels. Maori and Pacific Islanders of the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion joined the tunnellers for a short time. Infantrymen from the New Zealand Division also helped out. In 1918 the Kiwi tunnellers turned to bridge building. They constructed the longest self supporting bridge erected during World War One.
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