On our last day stopping with the rellies, we headed out to Arras. On previous visits we had only ever dipped our toes into what this town has to offer and we had passed by on many occasions.
One thing we did know was that Arras is sitting on a maze of tunnels, and therefore felt it was way past time for us to find out more.
So of we went to Carrière Wellington.
Here is what Wikipedia has to say…
The Carrière Wellington is a museum in Arras, northern France. It is named after a former underground quarry which was part of a network of tunnels used by forces of the British Empire and Commonwealth during the First World War. Opened in March 2008, the museum commemorates the soldiers who built the tunnels and fought in the Battle of Arras in 1917.
500 miners from the New Zealand Tunnelling Company, including Māori and Pacific Islanders, recruited from the gold and coal mining districts of the country, were brought in to dig 20 kilometres (12 mi) of tunnels. They worked alongside Royal Engineer tunnelling companies, made up by now of British coal miners and expert tunnellers who had built the London Underground. Many of them were “Bantams“, soldiers of below average height who had been rejected from regular units because they did not meet the height requirements; others had been initially rejected as too old, but their specialist mining experience made them essential for the tunnelling operation.
Thousands of soldiers were billeted in the tunnels for eight days prior to the start of the Arras offensive on 9 April 1917. At 05:30 that morning, exits were dynamited to enable the troops to storm the German trenches. The Germans were taken by surprise and were pushed back 11 km (6.8 mi). This counted as an extraordinary success by the standards of the time. However, the offensive soon bogged down and it was eventually called off after casualties reached 4,000 a day.
Hopefully, the following pictures, will give a sense of the conditions under which the men of the New Zealand Tunelling Company worked and also the cramped space that thousands of men endured prior to beginning the attack.
The following image shows just one of the many stairways, to be used by the men as they exited the tunnels. They would have climbed in single file, popping out above ground to confront the German soldiers. I wonder if the first man up was a volunteer ?
With all the men inhabiting the tunnels a fair amount of drinking water would be required. They had their own water supply. The following image shows a water trough to the left. The trough is full of water, showing just how clean the water was. Center of the image is a mirror whose reflection shows the well from which the water comes.
Also from Wikipedia …..
The Carrière Wellington museum consists of a visitor centre displaying historic artifacts and presenting the historical context of the Battle of Arras, including the work of the tunnelers and the military strategy that underlay the tunnels’ construction. It was opened to the public on 1 March 2008.
The tunnels are accessed via a lift shaft that takes visitors approximately 22 m (70 ft) under the ground inside the galleries of the underground quarry. The tour consists of both guided and audio-guided tours on a planned path accessible for wheelchairs. The visitors discover the development of the strategy of the Battle of Arras, and also the daily life of the tunnelers of New-Zealand and the soldiers of the British Expeditionary Forces sent in these tunnels to prepare this battle.
The site is also a memorial dedicated to the battle of Arras, with a memorial wall remembering all the regiments involved in the battle of Arras. Since the Hundred Years of the battle in 2017, a second memorial wall is dedicated to portraits of NZ Tunnelers, and a statue was installed in the park for the remembrance of these tunnelers. Each year, a ceremony is organised at 6.30 am on April 9th.
An interesting and enlightening day. I am ever amazed at the amount of effort, the soldiers of the First World War, expended for so little gain.
As this was to be our last day, before heading back to good ol’ Blighty, we all went out for a family meal. And so, after a good meal at Beers & Co., it was back to Achiete and bag packing.