NZ Tunnellers Museum in France Commemorates Kiwis
17 February 2008
NZ Tunnellers Museum in
France Commemorates WW1 Kiwis
A museum has been opened in Arras, France to commemorate the astonishing work of 450 New Zealanders who built a network of tunnels between Arras and the German front lines during World War 1.
The Associate Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage, Mahara Okeroa, and the NZ Ambassador to France, Sarah Dennis, represented New Zealand at the opening ceremony in the weekend (Saturday evening, France local time).
Three generations of the family of Ernest Robert Norton (NZ Tunnelling Company), were at the ceremony to pay tribute to the men. Daughter Pat, grandson Rod, and great grandson Matt, also returned antique French silver cutlery Ernest Norton had found and brought home from the caverns.
The museum, Carrière Wellington, 22 metres underground, is named after the cavern where it is situated. Many of the tunnellers were recruited from gold and coal mining districts in New Zealand. They used place-names from home to navigate the complex underground passages, from Russell in the north to Bluff in the south.
About 20 kilometres of tunnels could accommodate 20,000 men. Facilities included running water, electric lighting, kitchens, latrines, a light rail system and a medical centre with a fully equipped operating theatre.
15,000 troops assembled safely for the planned attack in April 1917 without alerting German troops in the front line. In the ensuing Battle of Arras they broke through to the surface, pushing German lines back 11 kilometres.
Sound and light shows in the museum cover the discovery of the caverns, the military strategy, the work of the tunnellers in 1916 and 1917, and the battle – one of the most strategic of World War 1. Visitors can then take guided tours of the tunnels and caverns.
A full feature about the NZ Tunnelling Company, including pictures, is on the Ministry for Culture and Heritage website , http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/