rural days, who in fact were part of a history even more fascinating than the legendsby which they are best remembered.
World War One and tunnelling
The classic images of World War One are those of trenches cut into the Frenchcountryside, the Allies and the German’s facing each other with only “no-man’s land”in between, on fields of endless mud. Below ground, however, a special type of warwent on, each side digging tunnels from their line beneath the mud and defencestoward the trenches of the enemy, with the intention of exploding the trenches, andthe occupants, to pieces. The underground war was initiated by the German side inlate 1914, and the British and French forces reacted by bringing in teams of men tospecialise in digging narrow chambers, barely the width of a man’s shoulders, withshovels braced between the legs and men behind the diggers crawling on their handsand knees to collect the spoil. Sewer workers from cities such as Manchester, forexample, were considered ideal for this kind of stifling, highly dangerous work.Where Allied and German tunnels intersected, bitter fighting would ensue, thewinners of these desperate conflicts having the privilege of blowing up the losingside’s tunnel.In the middle of 1915, reinforcements were called for, and the then Dominions of theBritish Empire responded: Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In September 1915,the New Zealand Ministry of Defence issued an appeal for recruits, “only experiencedminers and tunnel men being required, and applications for commissions were calledfrom qualified Mining and Civil Engineers.”
The call was for 400 men, 250 to be experienced “facemen”, miners by profession(but not coal miners, who were needed at home), the remaining 150 “less skilledworkers.” The men were different in other ways from the rest of the expeditionaryforces sent to the front in that war: the age of enlistment was from 21 to 40 years, butthe majority were aged closer to the upper end of that range than the lower. Theofficers had been drawn from the Public Works Department, as well as engineersfrom the private mining companies.