Men who enlisted in the New Zealand Tunnelling Company did so because of the special skills they possessed. Generally middle aged, and older, these men were mining engineers, experienced underground gold and coal miners, and men from Public Works Departments. They were described as 'experts in the class of work for which they were called up'. They were not 'boys playing at war, but mature men, hard of muscle, hand and face'.
Tunnelling Company enlistments didn't take kindly to authority. They had a job to do, and knew how to do it. They were good at it, but not so good at saluting, especially to the British officers. It was reported that Such men did not take kindly to drill and were later famed throughout the Expeditionary force as being the toughest and roughest Company.
The Tunnelling Company also featured men from professional backgrounds. Prior to his enlistment Captain Daniel Black Waters was Professor of Mining and Metallurgy at the University of Otago. In 1915 he was also Vice-President of the Australasian Institute of Mining Engineers. Captain J.D.Holmes, acting OC of the Company was the son of R W Holmes, the public works engineer who was responsible for another remarkable engineering feat, on the North Island railway known as the Raurimu Spiral. Captain Holmes was responsible for the construction of the Havrincourt Bridge over the Canal du Nord, a notable engineering feat.
Far from being just manual labourers, Tunnelling Company men were enlisting from areas such as Waihi in the Hauraki Goldfields. They were coming from what was one of the foremost industrial sites in New Zealand. The region was widely regarded for its technical innovations such as the introduction of electric power, the development of tube mills, and the refinement of cyanide gold recovery technology.
An unveiling ceremony of the War Memorial of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy was held in London in 1921.
Attending was Field Marshall Earl Haig, senior commander of the World War One British Expeditionary Force. In his address he said, You have afforded me an opportunity to say a few words of special thanks for a body of men in France that seldom drew upon itself much notice or glory at the time, but was surpassed by none in the demands it made upon the skill, the courage and the resolution of the individuals concerned, or in the services it rendered to the Army as a whole.
Few outside of those who took part in the work and benefited by its results realise the immense amount of steady, persistent toil in every circumstance of peril, surrounded by danger in a form that might appall the stoutest hearted, that went to the preparation of triumph. Few realise how vast, how important to the safety, comfort, and success of our troops, was the work of the miners, work that was little commented upon in the Press, but yet went steadily and continuously, day after day, and year after year, along the whole of the British Front.
Read the stories of Sapper Michael Tobin of Tauranga who enlisted in the New Zealand Tunnelling Company and was the first NZEF enlistment to die on the Western Front, Sergeant Sam Vernon, the first Tunneller to die as a result of enemy action, and the Murdoch brothers who both enlisted in the Tunnelling Company.
We are always looking for stories of New Zealand tunnellers. Contact us: email@example.com