Tunnelling Companies in the Great War

Everybody damns the Tunneller; GHQ because he invariably has his job finished months before the rest of the Army are ready for the ‘Great Push’; Army troops because he invariably upsets all their preconceived notions as to the safety of trenches and dugouts; Divisional troops damn him because he is outside their sphere of influence; Brigade troops because he refuses to move when they do and because he knows by heart that part of the line to which they come as strangers; Brass hats because they dislike his underground habits; Regimental officers because he refuses to allow them to use his deep and snug dugouts; Subalterns because of his superior knowledge; Tommy because he is the direct cause of numerous extra fatigues and – alas that it should be so – because of his extra pay; and last and loudest, the Boche damn him because of his earnest and unceasing attempts at uplifting and converting them into surprised angels. It is also owing to his success in this noble work of the missionary that the Tunneller is highly respected by all branches of the forces.

[E Synton, 1918]

Undermining the positions of one’s enemy is one of the most ancient of martial activities. For almost 3000 years before 1914, and even after the invention of gunpowder and the inexorable development of artillery, it was a prime siege-breaking technique; indeed tunnelling is still employed across the world to the present day. The Great War, however, produced the greatest siege the world had ever seen, and its four years of stasis presented a conflict environment that perfectly favoured the skills of the military miner. By the end of May 1915 a continuous trench line, effectively an unbroken pair of fortress walls with no vulnerable flanks, stretched from the North Sea coast to the Swiss frontier. It was to grow into a huge network of defence-in-depth earthworks. With both sides equally well dug-in and deploying comparable troop numbers and armaments, neither was to prove strong enough to force a decisive breakthrough. Siege conditions demanded siege tactics: as the ground was everywhere mineable, the Western Front was a prime candidate for underground warfare.

Royal Engineer practice mines being blown as part of a training exercise near Chatham, Kent in 1887. REM.

By a curious twist of fate, military mining against British and Dominion troops began at Givenchy-lès-la Bassée, nearby the site of the new Tunnellers Memorial. On 21 December 1914 the Germans secretly dug shallow tunnels across No Man’s Land and exploded ten small but deadly mines beneath the primitive trenches of the Indian Sirhind Brigade. As the news spread up and down the line, alarm increased: how could this new and unexpected threat be countered? It couldn’t – adequately – for at that time the British had no military mining corps. Further German blows in the new year spurred the British to react with uncharacteristic alacrity.

By March 1915 the first Tunnelling Companies had been formed and were at work in Flanders. By the close of that year mine warfare was more or less continuous wherever opposing trench lines lay within mutual striking distance. It had already become a 24- hour a day, 365-day a year operation. The man shown in the photo to the right is from 172 Tunnelling Company, the first unit William Hackett joined before being relocated to 254 TC in November 1915.

A section of 175 Tunnelling Company. Courtesy of Spellmount Books

A group of potential Tunnelling officers seated outside the RE Library, Chatham. REM

By mid-1916 the British had around 25,000 trained tunnellers. Almost twice that number of ‘attached infantry’ worked permanently alongside them acting as beasts of burden, fetching and carrying the many essential elements of mining paraphernalia, pumping air and water and removing spoil – the earth produced by the digging of the tunnels.

Parts of the Western Front became labyrinths of underground workings. Those troops not directly involved in tunnelling (including attached infantry) were allowed to know little of the aims of a mining scheme simply because the gestation of such endeavours could be so long – well over a year for the Messines offensive of 7 June 1917 – and so arduous, that leakage of information might lead not only to the wastage of colossal effort and the ruination of a plan, but the loss of many lives in the most hideous of circumstances: entombment, drowning, gassing or obliteration in cramped and claustrophobic galleries beneath no man’s land. Close relationships between tunnellers and their attached infantry were formed.


The tunnelling war was a game of blindfold cat and mouse. The only way to detect one’s enemy underground was by listening. In every tunnelling company considerable numbers of specially-selected men were employed solely on this vital task. Using at first just the naked ear and subsequently sensitive technical devices, listening became a highly developed and efficient art. Installed at the end of their tiny gallery, a trained listener would take notes of the compass bearing and estimated distance of suspect sounds. Comparing the notes of several listeners allowed triangulation of a sound’s origin, and thus an indication as to the location of the enemy, the direction he was heading, and the speed at which he was working. The favoured British listening aid was the Geophone (below). Employing two sensors a listener was able to ascertain the direction of hostile activity by moving the sensors until sound levels appeared equal in both ears. A compass bearing was then taken. When gauging distance only, both earpieces were plugged into a single sensor; this was a skill only gained by experience.
By the end of 1916 the scale of mine warfare had expanded to such an extent that there were not enough listeners to man every post, and central listening stations were devised. Working electronically like a telephone exchange, the signals from up to 36 remote sensors (Tele-geophones and Seismomicrophones) could be distinguished and recorded by just two men.

A sapper using a geophone. Military Mining 1923

Mines and Camouflets

The ultimate effect of an offensive mine, an underground explosion designed to destroy a specific surface target, and usually forming a crater, was dependent upon the quantity, type and quality of explosive used, the nature of the soil and subsoil in which it had been planted, and the depth of the charge. During 1916 one thousand five hundred mines were exploded on the British front, but many thousands of lesser defensive charges were also blown. Known as camouflets (derived from French mining terminology), these were small, controlled and localised underground blasts generally designed not to break the surface and form craters, but to destroy a strictly limited area of underground territory – and its occupants. Two basic techniques were employed. The first was to plant one’s camouflet in one’s own tunnel, a listening post, or in a small spur which was specially dug towards suspect enemy sounds. This was the preferred method in tough ground such as hard clay, or the resilient chalks of Picardy. The second method was more applicable in softer ground, especially in the sandy ridges and spurs of the Ypres (Ieper) Salient. Here, a ‘torpedo’ or ‘Cylinder’ was used. These were specially prefabricated self-contained explosive charges housed in a tube, designed specifically for this kind of warfare. Kept in a store at the rear of tunnel systems, at least one torpedo was always prepared for action, fully charged, primed with a detonator, and ready for instant use. Torpedoes were also used from shallow tunnels to destroy trenches and dugouts.

Cylinder for bore-hole charges

Heavier charges were also used to damage larger areas of underground territory, the purpose being to either destroy substantial sections of hostile tunnels and the occupants, or make the ground so shattered that it was difficult to work. These bigger blows often cratered the surface. The problem with this kind of attack was that one’s own tunnel systems could be equally seriously damaged. Such tactics were used only in extremis, when the hostile threat was acute. This, therefore, was defensive mining, devised and adapted to protect ones own web of tunnels from enemy action. It came to be the main occupation of tunnellers on both sides. Thus a private and secret war was gradually created beneath the battlefields. With improvements in listening and defensive practices, successful offensive attacks against surface targets became less and less frequent. Most mine warfare came to take the form of a clandestine and barbaric battle with tunneller fighting tunneller with camouflets. Hand-to-hand fighting was also not unknown.


Clay-kicking (also known as ‘working on the cross’) was a specialist method used in England for driving tunnels for sewer, road and railway works through clay-based geology. In late 1914 the technique was proposed to the army by the creator of the Tunnelling Companies, John Norton-Griffiths, a British engineering entrepreneur who at that time was employing clay-kickers on one of his company’s contracts: the refurbishment of Manchester’s main sewer. Norton-Griffiths persuaded the military that this technique – and his men – were perfect for the clays of Flanders. By February 1915, and as a result of continuing severe enemy mining action, the suggestion was at last taken up. The first batch of kickers – called “Moles’ by Norton-Griffiths – left Manchester on a Thursday; by the following Monday they were already working underground in France – at Givenchy.

Illustration of clay-kicking method. Drawn by Andy Gammon

In employing the power of the legs to work a specially shaped and finely sharpened spade known as a ‘grafting tool’, clay-kicking allowed a small tunnel to be driven quickly and with minimal effort. The tool was pushed rather than kicked into the working ‘face’ with the feet, each ‘spit’ of clay being then levered out by a prising movement. Progress was thus much faster than digging by hand. Most importantly, however, the technique was almost silent in its application. Digging with a pick or mattock demanded that the earth be struck, creating noise which could be heard by enemy listeners. The Germans never used clay-kicking as it was not a technique employed in civil engineering; indeed, it remained unknown to them for the entire war. German Pioniere thus continued to work with small – and noisy – mattocks. The contrast in digging techniques was a key factor in the ultimate Commonwealth dominance of the subterranean battleground in clay geology. A typical clay-kicking team consisted of a ‘kicker’, who worked at the face, a ‘bagger’, who filled sandbags with the ‘spoil’, the lumps of clay, and a ‘trammer’, who trammed the bags out of the gallery on a small, rubber-tyred trolley on rails; on the return journey this was employed to bring timber in. A clay-kicking team ‘grafted’ for six hours, the shift working on a rotational basis, with the men taking turns at each job. Such teams became close-knit units and stayed together as long as injury, sickness or fate allowed. They were also responsible for timbering the tunnel. Having cut out the rough shape with the grafting tool, a ‘push-pick’ was used to trim the clay to the perfect size to allow a timber ‘sett’ to be installed. A sett consisted of four pieces of wood : a sole for the floor, two side trees (also know as legs), and a cap. The sole went in first, the legs next, and finally the cap. Because of the need for silent working no nails or screws were used; the sole and cap timbers were sawn with small rebated ‘steps’; these located the two legs so that the geophysical pressure of the swelling clays was all that was required to hold the sett firmly in place. Progress was made one sett at a time – nine inches. To encourage drainage the tunnel was always built on a slight uphill gradient of between 1:100 and 1:50. It is likely that the five-man party of which William Hackett was a member were employing clay-kicking to drive their tunnel towards the German lines.

The Zonnebeke sector near Ypres in 1919 showing a trench system with dugout/tunnel entrance. Johan Vandewalle


The standard and most simple shafts were built entirely in timber and conformed to centuries-old designs. Although adequate in firm and dry conditions, the varying geological nature of the Flanders battlefields demanded new techniques to cope with the serious problem of bad ground, particularly the layer of quicksand known as the Kemmel Sands, an integral component of the geological make up of all the ridges around Ieper. For the Germans, occupying almost all the most advantageous positions on the ridge tops, this stratum was a serious headache. Tunnelling in the dry strata above the Kemmel Sands was simple, swift and easy, but sinking a shaft through the schwimmsands, as they were known (the British called them running sands), to reach the dry and firm clay geology beneath, was found to be unfeasible: the constantly shifting ground made timber structures almost impossible both to stabilise and waterproof. The sands, which were trapped between the dry stratum above and impervious clay beneath, were also under great geophysical pressure, and often ‘fountained’ when pierced. Believing that the British faced the same insoluble engineering problem, the Pioniere made few efforts to break through the schwimmsands until the spring of 1916.

Illustration of steel ‘tubbed’ shaft construction. Drawn by Andy Gammon

What the Germans had failed to realise was that their enemy had conquered the geology by using cylindrical steel shafts known as ‘tubbing’. Tubbing arrived in sections which were bolted together to form a watertight tube. These were sunk through the wet sands (see illustration above) to the dry clay beneath either by the gravitational action of their own weight, or by jacks. Once the steel had reached the dry clay it was again safe to continue the work in timber. The system was quick, simple, strong, stable and waterproof – and allowed the British to delve deep into the Flanders clay in many places where their enemy believed it to be impossible. Critically, the British first used steel shafts as early as May 1915 – almost a full year before the Pioniere. By the spring of 1916 when the Germans were forced to sink watertight shafts in steel (and concrete) because the British had started blowing deep mines, the subterranean war was effectively lost to them. In this ‘year of German ignorance’ the Tunnellers had been able to secretly drive many deep galleries and plant the greatest mines in the history of warfare.

A steel ‘tubbed’ shaft at Lancashire farm near Ypres


Underground, tunnellers faced many a threat: entombment, obliteration, health problems brought on by the workload, working environment and poor air quality; there was even the risk of drowning. But the biggest killer was actually gas poisoning; not the designed toxic vapour variety used in cloud and shell form by troops on the surface, but carbon monoxide (CO), an invisible, odourless and tasteless substance that was naturally produced by every explosive action – even the firing of a simple rifle bullet. In mines that broke the surface, or in the case of a shell burst, carbon monoxide quickly dissipated into the atmosphere; after an underground explosion, however, it is trapped – in the geology and in the tunnels.

Mine rescue team equipped with torches, bellows, short-range breathing gear, Novita oxygen resuscitation kit, Proto apparatus, ropes and a canary in a cage. REM

Carbon Mnoxide displaces oxygen in the blood. The process is cumulative, resulting in body tissues being gradually starved of oxygen and energy. Death, when it comes, is painless, gentle and insidious, but in the tunnels it was a terrifying prospect. With lowlevel concentrations men could be entirely unaware of its presence, allowing them to penetrate deep into a system before being affected. As little as 0.1 percent CO in air was dangerous, and it was found that a man at rest in an atmosphere of 0.15 percent CO would be affected after two hours, reducing to about forty minutes if working strenuously. A concentration of 0.2 percent caused loss of consciousness in around twenty-five minutes, and 0.3 percent in ten to fifteen minutes. If the gas was present in large quantities, a tunneller could be unconscious in a matter of moments – with little warning. The early symptoms were giddiness, shortness of breath and palpitations, with confusion following. There was then a loss of power in the limbs. When this stage was reached a little exertion would induce loss of consciousness.

Tunneller descending a shaft wearing Proto apparatus. A mouse or a canary would already have been used to detect the presence of carbon monoxide gas. This image shows Sapper 1057 Eugene Kelly (killed 11 April 1918) on duty with 3rd Australian Tunnelling Company in the Hulluch Tunnel near Loos-en-Gohelle. IWM

In extensive mine systems galleries were fitted with regulator doors, effectively producing a series of airlocks. The spread of gas could therefore be isolated so rescue work was simplified and tunnellers in unaffected areas could continue to operate. For rescue purposes several forms of self-contained breathing apparatus were used. However, it was first essential to find out whether the air below ground was ‘gassy’ or not. To achieve this Tunnellers employed the traditional practice of using canaries and mice. As both creatures have a much higher metabolic rate than humans, they are therefore more quickly affected by CO gas. Mice were superceded by canaries as signallers for their curling up in a corner of the cage was not sufficiently evident; a canary, however, was prone to fall off its perch, a more obvious indication of risk. The British eventually organised a highly developed system of rescue. In mining sectors no shaft was further than 200 metres from a station. Proto-men (named after the breathing kit they employed) were highly trained, hand picked men, selected for experience and coolness under pressure. Two men were on duty at all times. Apart from the rescue gear and oxygen reviving equipment each station contained: Ten electric miners lamps, six canaries (or mice) with four mobile cages and two living cages, one saw, one hand axe, three life lines, two mine stretchers, one trench stretcher, one Primus stove, two tins of café au lait, six hot water bottles, six blankets.

A mine rescue station in Flanders with a sapper ready for descent and other equipment prepared for use. IWM

When in spring 1917 the war became more mobile with the grand sequence of offensives of the Battles of Arras, Messines and Passchendaele, there was no longer a place for a tactic that depended upon total stasis for its employment. Offensive and defensive military mining largely ceased. Underground work continued unabated, however, with the Tunnellers concentrating on mined ‘deep dugouts’ for troop accommodation.

Typical deep dugout accommodation near Ypres: Martha House dugout as seen during an exploration of 1995. Johan Vandewalle

226 Responses to Tunnelling Companies in the Great War

  1. Very informative

  2. My grandfather was in the 178th tunnelling company. Has anyone any lists/photo’s of 178 tunnelling coy?
    Allan Taylor

    • This is so interesting. My grandfather Oliver Frank Field, was also with the 178th tunnelling company. He received the Military Medal in June 1916 but I am unable to find any citation. The family story is that he went back into a tunnel to rescue a comrade. As with so many of these brave men, he rarely spoke about his experiences so any information I can find out is wonderful.

      • Dear Heather – we hope the disc containing the war diary of 178TC proved useful.
        Best wishes,
        Admin Team

        • I also have the 178th tunnelling companies war diary and have transcribed up to july 1916. the problem now is i cannot translate it beyond that, most of the writing is in pencil and the photo copy is not very good.
          can you help? my grandfather was arthur taylor
          allan taylor

  3. derrick davies

    very intresting

  4. Could you please inform me how I can find the names of all the British Tunnellers, my wife’s grandfather is beleived to have been a tunneller, he was a miner who joined the Army in 1914 and survived the war

  5. My Greatgrandfather was in the 175 tunn coy I have a photograph he looks similar to two people in the photograph on this website can anyone help?.
    His name was John Pryor DCM died 28 April 1916 formerly from the N Staffs Reg. lived in Swinton manchester

    • My Great Grandfather was also in the 175th and died on march 8th of the same year.

      I found a company that will go through the official records for a small fee and copy all documents relevant to your relative. For me they found my Great Grandfather – James Rowley’s recruitment forms and the 175th’s company diary which mentions his wounding.


    My wife’s uncle, Lieutenant Harold Riley M.C., was a member of the 250th Tunneling Company (also attached to 172nd. Co.). He was a BSc qualified mining engineer (London University)and one of his many responsibilities was commanding a group digging one of the tunnels under the Messines Ridge that was completed and exploded in June 1917. The 250th Company constructed 3 deep level mines there at Petit Bois, Peckham and Spanbroekmolen.
    Harold was badly wounded on 21 March 1918 on the first day of the Kaiser’s Spring offensive “Michael”, but survived the war. He died on 26 April 1981 at the age of 87.

    • I have a watch that was made for lieut harold f riley of madison wisc the watch was ingraved on sep 12 1918 if your wanna talk contact me at kolbyebrooke@yahoo.com

    • Michele Beverley

      Dear Cerdic,
      I met you a lifetime and a half ago at Grandad (Harold) & Ree’s, in Camden Town when I was a child- I remembered your unusual name. I am Peter’s daughter.
      I hope this finds you as it looks as if you know more about about Grandad’s war record than we do- he never spoke about it it to Dad, now deceased, and I am not having much success on the web.
      I so hope this finds you!

  7. William John Greives Military Service WW1 – by his Grandson Tom Grieves
    On 3 Oct 2008, I was researching Grieves/Greives records on Ancestry.com and to my amazement found WW1 British Military Service records for a William John Greives – Sapper – Service Number 102472 (note the spelling). Further investigation revealed that the records related to my Grandfather. The records are unmistakeable as his records, because they cite Elizabeth Jane Redshaw as his wife and list his children except for Dorothy and my father Christopher who were both already married and away from William’s home at 59 Morgan St, Southwick, Sunderland.
    From William’s War Service Records, I have discovered that he joined the Royal Engineers on 8 Jun 1915 in London, and four days later on the 12 Jun 1915 he was already serving in France in the 170th Tunnelling Company of the Royal Engineers. William’s son Christopher had already joined the British Army in the Northumberland Fusiliers 24th Battalion on 5 Jan 1915 and was undergoing military training before going to France in early January 1916. When he enlisted, William claimed his age was forty four years and six months, but he was probably about forty six, and lied to get under the 45 age limit, this was very common for the Tunnellers with possible collusion from the recruiters as they were looking for the most experienced miners. He was not given any military training; he was simply issued a uniform and possibly a rifle, and sent to the front lines. He was a coal miner in civilian life, so he needed no training to dig underground, and he was initially employed as a tunnellers mate at the rate of two shillings and two pence a day. The underground warfare had only recently started in January 1915, and both sides were fighting from trenches and saps on the surface, and digging tunnels and galleries under each other’s infantry trenches to set explosive mines to kill and maim each other and destroy each other’s defences.
    About seven weeks after arriving in Flanders on 23 Jul he remusterd to Sapper, and received the higher pay rate of 6 shillings a day. Three days later on 26 Jul 1915, he was caught sleeping whilst on sentry duty (possibly at an underground listening post), and was charged with this offence. After two weeks detention in location, he was Court Martialled, and sentenced to 2 years imprisonment with hard labour on 9 Aug 1915. His sentence was reduced to one year imprisonment with hard labour, and on 19 Aug he was released under an act of Parliament known as the Suspension Act that allowed for sentences to be suspended, and he returned to his unit to serve his sentence in “the field” and not be returned to England for imprisonment. He finished serving his sentence on 9 Aug 1916, and it seems that while he was under sentence he was probably given leave back to England and received full pay of 6 shillings a day.
    Very little else can be gleaned from the faded documents, except that he served until 29 Dec 1917 when he was discharged as “No longer physically fit for War Service”. He obviously avoided any further disciplinary action during his service and served with honour, as he was awarded the three common Great War medals, The 1915 Star, the War Medal and the Victory Medal. In 1917 at the time of his discharge, he would have been aged about fifty. In December of 1929 he died in the Hull Workhouse a victim of the Great Depression.

    • Christine Irvine

      My great grandfather also served in the 170th Tunnelling Company. He was awarded the DCM for conspicuous gallantry during a tunnelling operation at Cuinchy in August 1915 and died in May 1916 trying to get his men out of a tunnel which was under gas attack. He was 43 years old when he died. He had former army service before 1914 and was a mine foreman when war broke out. His name was Harry Russelbury Wenlock and he was born in Wheaton Aston, Staffordshire then moved to Heath Town, Wolverhampton.

  8. Mrs Hazel Lord

    Every year, myself and seven colleagues from Ossett Academy, West Yorkshire, take 60 Yr9 students(13/14 year olds) on ‘The Battlefields Trip’. We take them to No-mans Land, to Thiepval Memorial, to Tynecot Cemetery to Cloth Hall in the town of Ypres and to see the Lochnagar crater, finishing off the week, honouring the dead with the last Post at Menin Gate.
    Every year the shear size of the crater still takes my breath away. I do a speach about how this giant crater was created. This year I will be telling them about Sapper William Hackett of 254 Tunnelling Company and his brave team, I will describe the conditions that these men worked in, to our students, so they know how these courageous men lived and died. We have made this trip for the last 8 years, I see ex-students who still talk about their amazing experience and how it literally changed their lives!
    We go again this July, taking another 60 unsuspecting 13/14 year olds, who will come back to England far humbler than they were before our visit.

  9. Very interesting site and an excellant memorial to the tunnelers. i have been researching my grandfathers ww1 war recirds and he is listed as being attached to tunnelling company 258. I am very keen to find out more about this company and would appreciate any information about the area this company carried out their mining.

    • Have you received the information you need? The Durand group are currently active underground at Loos where 258 Coy served at the end of 1916 in the Hill 70 Area. W have diaries, maps and pnas if you need inforamtion you have not got already

  10. What a splendid web-site! The most easily approachable, factual and concise description of the “Underground War”.
    Everyone knows stories of the chaps going “over the top” – very few ever give a thought to those who went underneath.
    Very best luck in all your endeavours!
    Bill Ruston

  11. An excellent web-site and very informative. My grandfather was a tin miner from Cornwall and joined the 251st tunnelers from the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry on the 9th October 1915. We know he came back to hospital in England in April 1916 and on his return to the front was transferred to the 185th tunneling company who by that time had moved towards Vimy and in particular Neuville St Vaast.

    I am conducting some research into how many Cornish Miners joined the tunneling companies, so if anyone has any pictures or information they could let me have I would be very grateful. We will be in Northern France at the end of this month and plan to visit the memorial as well as the Wellington museum and the archeological dig at La Boiselle.

    • Hello Ken – Iv’e just read your posted comment. Perhaps the detail in my comment today will be of use to you? Best regards from a Cornishman living in Scotland! Glyn Rolling

      • Hello Glyn,

        I am sorry for taking so long to get back to you, but somehow I missed this one and have only just picked it up. Thank you very much for the information it all helps to build what is a fascinating insight into what happened during the Great War.

        Kind Regards


    • My grandfather was Major and started A company 10th Btn DCLI – have photo of unit.

  12. Margaret Taylor

    My grandfather Joseph Thomas Reynolds was a Cornishman and in 251st Coy R.E but not a miner but a Miller from Carne, Manaccan. Cornwall. I am sorry to disappoint you but just discovered this site and think it brilliant too!

    • Hi Margaret,
      Thank you for that and I have picked up your grandfather as a member of the 251st. Like mine, he actually joined the DCLI 10th battalion on the 5th June 1915 and was transferred along with 220 others to the 251st company on the 29th Sept 1915, sailing to France on the 9th October 1915. He did become a tunneler on his 6 shillings a day until 17th December when he relinquished that right as many did. He was actually discharged on the 24th January 1919 still with the 251st. Sorry if you already knew this, but if not hope you find it interesting.


  13. My Great grandfather, John Booth, served in the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment (No. 156) in France and Belgium. and was drafted to the Royal Engineers (Sapper 86466) in the May of 1915. In the October of that year was gassed. He was then sent to Scotland and then the South of England where he remained for two years. Rejoining the 171st tunnelling Co he was killed six weeks after his return on the 6th of November 1917, aged 47. He is buried at Vlamertinghe Military Cemetary, Belgium.

    • Hello Peter,
      I came across your remembrance of your great-grandfather whilst trying to find some info regarding a tunnelling officer. I am currently putting the final touches / entries /edits to a work I have been compiling for the past eleven years to be published in time for the 100th Anniversary of the Great War, 2014.
      I should like to include John Booth in the section I have written re. Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery, and, should you agree, would appreciate answers to as much of the following as you are able to supply :
      His parents address.
      His mother’s maiden name
      John’s date of birth
      John’s place of education.
      John’s employ prior to enlistment.
      Did John serve in South Africa (his age and service no. indicate a pre-war Regular)
      Date John went to France (if 1st Loyal North Lancs, probably Aug. 1914)
      The names of his children.

      In appreciation of your assistance I will thank you in the book’s acknowledgements.
      Best Wishes,

      Paul Chapman.
      In Memory & In Mourning,
      For The Fallen,
      Lest We Forget.

  14. Christine Irvine

    Are there any photographs of the 170th Tunnelling Company dating from 1915 or 1916?

  15. My grandfather William F, paddock Joined the Welsh Fusiliers at the outbreak of the first world war but was transferred to the 173rd tunneling company I think because he was a miner. He served the duration of the war and was awarded the military medal and bar unfortunately I have no details of what he did to earn these medals as he refused to talk about them, saying only that the men who should have got them were the ones who didn’t come home. He died in his seventies a well loved and respected man.

  16. Hi folks,
    A great article. Thanks,
    Iain, Any idea when your book (on 177 Company) will be published? What will it be titled?


    • Iain’s study of 177TC men, “Subterrenean Sappers. A History of 177 Tunnelling Company 1915 to 1919″ is currently with publishers. There is no publish date as yet.

  17. My great uncle Richard John Rolling was born in Falmouth 24 Feb 1899. A surface Tin Miner in Redruth, he joined the DCLI 10th Service Battalion (Cornwall Pioneers) on 14 April 1915. On 19 September 1915 he joined the newly formed 251st Tunnelling Company 10th Division (Pte. 132215) and qualified as a tunneller’s mate on 30th of that month. In November 1915 he was awarded promotion to Lance Corporal (aged 16!) but lost his rank in February 1916 for allowing the men to loiter in the trenches! Whilst serving in the Cuinchy-Cambrin area with the Tunnelling Company he was killed by enemy action on 23 March 1916. The war diary does not mention him specifically but notes that the Germans had exploded two mines on that day; one causing a twenty foot collapse in one of the 251st tunnels. My father is named after Richard (but he is known as John Rolling) and I intend to take my dad to Cuinchy War Cemetery for his eightieth birthday this year.

    • Hello all
      ref: Cornish Tunnellers
      I am a BBC researcher working on the BBC World War One at Home Project in Cornwall. We would love to hear from any descendants of WW1 tunnellers. Thank you in anticipation of any feedback. Regards, Hannah Stacey, BBC Radio Cornwall (01872 475263).

  18. travis saunders

    Is there any record of a sapper with the surname Stanway.

    • Yes Travis, a quick search of the Medal Rolls confirms there were 12 sappers with the surname Stanway. Do you have any further information to help narrow down the search?

  19. My grandfather’s brother was in the 178th Tunnelling Company; he was previously in the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry. His name was Ernest Jacob. He was killed on The Somme in 1916. I do have a photo which I think is the 178th Company.

    • Dear Paul – we have 178TC war diary in our collection. Please email us if you would like us to send you a copy.

      • Hi, My great Grandfather (John Simkin) was in the 178th and died on the 29th August 1915. I would be grateful to get hold on any info about his time in the Somme.

        • I have sent you war diary and trench map extracts Louise – I hope they are of use.
          Best wishes,
          Jeremy Banning (Tunnellers Memorial admin)

      • I would really appreciate a copy – sorry haven’t responded earlier.
        Many thanks

      • Barry Finney

        Is there any history of the 179th Tunnel Cor and was it formed from the 178th cor ? Thank you Barry

    • My grandfather Oliver Frank Field was also with the 178th Tunnelling Company and as I have mentioned above won the Military Medal in 1916. Is there any way I might see that photograph please. Many thanks.

  20. lesley dillon

    My grandfather Private William Larmen was in the Durham light infantry and i have just been told he dug tunnels under the german lines,he used to dig the tunnels for the underground in london,does anyone remember him or have any photos,may thanks

  21. Chris Donnelly

    My Great Grandfather William Gorge Woodgate was a sapper in the 3rd Australian Tunnelling Company. He travelled to the Western Front in 1916 from Australia, and returned in 1919. His unit operated at Hill 70 in the Arras area.
    I would like to thank those that organised the Tunnellers Memorial in France. It was long overdue. I have been to my Great Grandfather’s units War Cemetery in Hersin France and would very much like to visit the new Memorial.

    • Robin Sanderson

      Hello Chris,
      Good to see your post. I am nearing the end of my book ~after 10 years!~ on the 3rd Australian Tunneling Company in which your great grandfather Sapper William Woodgate served. My book will pay tribute and tell the stories of scores of of the brave men like your great grandfather in this Tunnelling unit (which my grandfather commanded after the death of Major ‘Jack’ Coulter . He was Major Alexander Sanderson DSO MC bar OC 3ATC between 1916 and 1919). o should be competed by end 1914.

      • Robin, Have you finished your book yet ? If so, where can I obtain a copy and at what price please ?

      • Di Campbell

        Dear Robin
        I am part of a team of researchers working on an ANZAC Centenary funded project, Mining Mud & Medals. We are actively seeking information and stories about World War one servicemen who attended the Ballarat School of Mines (the Founding institution linked to Ballarat’s newly established Federation University Australia) or alternatively, servicemen with document connections (professionally or through immediate/extended family or by birth) with the Commonwealth electorate of Ballarat, located in Victoria, SE Australia.

        As we already have a number of servicemen who served with the 3rd Australian Army Tunnelling Company, it would be appreciated if you could contact the Project Manager via miningmudandmedals@gmail.com at your earliest convenience. We are also anxious to learn more about the military history you have written.

        Warmest regards, Di Campbell MA

    • Dear Chris-I would love to hear from you. I live in Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia (gets a quick mention in the movie ‘Beyond Hill 60′) and the Australian Tunnellers are of great interest to me. I have a fb pg dedicated to our tunnellers but as yet don’t have anything on it. (Have over 150 fb pages-both local and war). You can message me on my personal page or just look for Charters Towers Historical Photo Club-any one you’ll get me. Would love to add your G Grandfathers war records and photo. Cheers Jo.

  22. My great grandfather Josiah William Jewess joined up in 1915 and was a tunneller somewhere in france.He was “blown up” sometime after and invalided back home where he was medically discharged and given the SWB badge.
    This is all the information we have on him apart from his medal record.
    Can anyone shed more light on him or point me in the direction of somewhere that can?

    • I will send you all the information I have Paul. You are lucky in that his service record still survives. He was with 177 and then 184 Tunnelling Company RE.
      With thanks,
      Jeremy Banning (on behalf of the Tunnellers Memorial team)

  23. Absolutely fantastic,I can’t thank you enough,this will fill a big gap in our family history.

  24. My grandfather was in the 179th Tunnel CorpHis name was Arthur Finney .D.C.M. 79285 . Are there any photos or history of this company.

  25. John Wilkinson

    Very interesting! My uncle, Maurice Wilkinson MC, was in 177 Tunnelling Company from 1915 until he was killed on 31st July 1917 by a shell when they were on the way to the front line. In a letter written to his sister-in-law on 26th June 1917 he said that his Commanding Officer had been killed and he was in temporary command. It was very lively and they were ‘getting it hot’. I understand that 177 Company was stationed at Railway Wood just outside Ypres. I am going on a battlefield tour on the 29th May staying in Ypres for four days. We will visit his grave and Railway Wood and, hopefully, the 177 Company memorial at Railway Wood Cemetery. I would be really grateful for any further information about 177 Company and my Uncle’s role in it. Suggestions as to areas to visit would be most welcome. Is it possible to get hold of an advance copy of the book about 177 Company which is mentioned in the responses? Many thanks, John Wilkinson

  26. Garry Maguire

    My Great grandfather, Serjeant Robert Docherty was with the 258th TC , service number 79729.

    He had been with the Cameron Highlanders joining up in Bridgend where he was a miner. He had a different service number then- 10700 but i can find no records of that service beyond the 14-15 star medal

    He was awarded the Military Medal and died of wounds on 22/10/16 of the effects of gas on his lungs following, the family oral history goes, rescuing several men- all of whom subsequently died. We can’t find detail of this however.

    Can you help find records of the 258th please?

    Thank you


  27. Steve Wakefield

    Great site! My grandfather Sapper 778 HG Webb, 2nd Wessex RE was involved in tunneling and told me stories as a young boy. I recall him talking of hearing the Jerries in tunnels next door, and the volatile unstable nature of ammanol as it sweated?Until my early middle age some of his stories were put down to fanciful hyperbole, and some dementia, (he was affected mentally by his service) and it was only with recent accounts such as yours that the truth and gravity of the tunnelers work has been made clear to us all. Harry sadly died before his time in the sixties, and before a grown up me could ask him so many more questions. His records were amongst the “burnt” ones destroyed in the blitz, so I cannot follow his service entirely, but relatives have confirmed him also serving in the Dardenelles, after spending time in a “soldiers home” near Christchurch, Hants in 1916 (he joined up August 1914).His record shows him to be a malaria case? I would be really pleased if he was listed somewhere to record his service properly, and also would like any further information I can find out about him, such as his Company/Unit, movements, etc. I now have a modest home in France, and carry his war bible with me (and Harry too) every time I visit.

  28. Anthony Parsons

    As with many of the messages above I am researching my grandfather Sapper Edward Charles Parsons, Army Number 104983, a Cornish tin miner, then South African goldminer who enlisted on 12th August 1915, his 4oth birthday in London. Might he have been in the 178th Company noted above? He served in France from 19th August 1915 until 11th December 1916, then returned to England and was discharge as medically unfit on 9th March 1917 and subsequently died on 4th October 1918.
    Any information or advice as to where I might research further, would be gratefully recieved.
    Anthony Parsons

  29. John A Smith

    Seeking any info on William Bassett acting 2nd corporal 175th Tunnelling Coy. Died 14/8/1916. Enlisted 10/6/1915.

    • Dear John – we hope the email and disc of information sent back in August proved of use.
      Best wishes,
      Admin Team

    • My Great Grandfather served at the same time as yours, have you considered visiting your local library and seeing if they have any archived local newspapers from that time? I found that the local newspaper produced a week after my Great Grandfathers death produced a small piece on him as well as featuring a photograph.

  30. My Great Grand Father, Henry (Harry) Ashbee SPR 94559 was in A company 179th Tunnelling Unit, He joined at the start of the War with a group of pals who were working for Sir John Norton-Griffiths on the Sewers in Manchester. Henry was a master bricklayer by trade and not a clay kicker, was in his late forties and left behind a family of eight. Sadly I have very little information on his War service except that he was very badly wounded at Passchendaele in October 1917. He survived but lost his right arm and had severe shrapnel wounds to his back.

  31. Hello Very informative site . Thank you

    My Wife is tracking her Grandfather,James Windsor Lewis a tricky job as her Father was orphaned by both parents in the early twenties as was brought up by distant family. Recently we have found out that he was a Blackwood Monmouthshire ” pit head sinker” and was 44 years old in 1914 yet still served in France and was gassed.
    Given that he was out of normal recruitment age I wonder if he was a tunneller? Would he feature on any of your records ? any pointers would be gratefully received

    Thank You

    David Bevan

    • Dear David,
      We hope our 20 September email was of some use in helping with this family mystery.
      Best wishes,
      Tunnellers Memorial Admin

  32. Been researching my grandfather Henry James Robb Allardyce. Found evidence that he joined Gordon Highlanders January 1915 and was discharged after 60 days as service no longer needed. We had assumed he was a tunneller as he had been miner but somehow this does not seem true. Family legend states he had “outbursts” due to shrapnel wounds and he eventually left home. I have traced him to Army service and then found his death certificare but nothing in between. This early discharge from the army seems odd. Any help would be appreciated.

    • Dear Anne,
      We have just sent you an email with our thoughts on your grandfather’s wartime service.
      Best wishes,
      Admin Team

  33. Were tunnellers attached to regiments. My grandfather had a short service in Gordon Highlanders from January 1915 to March 1915 then discharged as services no longer required. As he was a miner we had assumed he was a tunneller but this site leads me to discount this. Any help would be appreciated

  34. My great grandfather John James Edward Davis was in 175th tunnelling corp. He was a A/2nd/Corporal, number 102003, he died on the 30th Jan 1917 Flanders France and is buried at Varnennes Military Cemetery, Somme, France. My Mum has several letters he wrote back home including one from the nurse who looked after him before he died. Apparently he joined up while coming home drunk from the pub!!
    I would like to find out any information there might be on his service, like how he became a corporal. Any information would greatly be appreciated.
    Many Thanks

    • Dear Claire – we hope that the disc of 175TC’s war diary has reached you and proves interesting reading.
      Best wishes,
      Tunnellers Memorial Admin Team

  35. I am currently working on a database of all the R.E. Tunnellers who lost their lives in the Great War, I am trying to build a small pen picture of as many as possible. Very impressed with the content on this site. If I can be of any help, let me know.
    All the best,


    • I wonder if someone could help me please. Higher up there is a photo of the 175 Tunnel Regiment and my Great Uncle Thomas Fulham Wales was in that regiment.

      He joined up at 34 and because he was a miner, they transferred him to the 175 tunnelling regiment in the Royal Engineers. It also looks like he was discharged a year later being considered not fit to fight, so presume he got injured. He got medals sent to him in 1920, so it appears he survived the War, but as there is no Census after 1911, I cannot find out what happened to him after that.

      Details I know are as follows :

      Thomas Fulham Wales
      Born 1881 Northumberland
      Worked as Miner and Stone Mason prior to enlisting
      Enlisted 02/06/1915 in London
      Army Number 102237
      Transferred to 175 Tunneling Regiment Royal Engineers on 19/07/1915 due to his mining skills

      Discharged 15/12/1916
      Awarded Victory, British and Star Medal

      If anyone could supply me with some information on him, or identify him on the photo, why he was discharged, where he fought / dug mines etcI would be really grateful. I am visiting the WW1 Battlefield’s next year and would love to know more about him.

      Many thanks

    • Martrin Gibson

      Hi Andy
      Very interested to know more about your database. My grandfather George Henry Waters 158540 256 T C was killed in action at Vimy Ridge on 14th September 1916 aged 26 years. |He was killed after about three months of arriving in France. I have a reasonable amount of info regarding him including his diary letters to my grandmother etc.
      I am quite keen to make contact with relatives of other tunnellers from 256 and wondered if you had received any responses.
      I am happy to provide you with details of George Henry.
      Many thanks
      Martin Gibson

  36. Robin Sanderson

    Excellent webpage but…..

    ‘Sapper ready for descent’ in the Mine Rescue ?Proto station is in fact Sapper 1057 Eugene Kelly ( KIA 11/4/1918) on duty with 3rd Australian Tunnelling Companyin the Hulluch Tunnel near Loos-en-Gohelle ( See AWM photo E01683)
    Why not amend your caption to this photo to acknowledge this Australian sapper who made the supreme sacrifice?

  37. Hello,

    I wonder if someone could help me please ?

    I have being doing some research and found that my Great Uncle fought in the First World War and mainly due to his distinctive name, found a load of documents about him. It looks like he joined up at 34 and because he was a miner, they transferred him to the 175 tunnelling regiment in the Royal Engineers. He was discharged a year later being considered not fit to fight, so presume he got injured. He got medals sent to him in 1920, so presume he survived the War, but as there is no Census after 1911, I cannot find out what happened to him after that. There is a “Will Notice” which mentions in hand writing, what looks like “to Mam “ and is dated 16/04/1920.

    Details :
    Thomas Fulham Wales
    Born 1881 Northumberland
    Occupation prior to enlisting :Miner & Stone mason
    Enlisted 02/06/1915
    Army Number 102237
    Sapper in Royal Engineers
    Transferred to 175 Tunneling Regiment 19/07/1915 due to his work as a miner.
    Discharged 15/12/1916 – “Discharged – no longer physically fit for War Service, Para 392 XVI King’s regulations2
    Awarded Victory, British and Star Medal

    Can anyone please advise if they have any other information on Thomas Fulham Wales, where he may have dug tunnels, fought etc, injureies and if he did survive the War. I am visiting the WW1 Battlefields and would really like to know any relevant information.

    Any help or guidance would really be appreciated.



    • Hello Brad
      Have you looked on on http://www.freeBMD.org.uk
      There is a death listed for a Thomas F Wales age at death 61, registered March quarter 1943, Northumberland Central district.
      There is also the marriage in1902 with Sarah Armstrong,
      also births for children with Wales surname and with wife’s maiden name of Armstrong listed as:
      Sarah mar q 1912, Sidney mar q 1914, Lily jun q 1915, John H sept q 1919 and Thomas F jun q 1921
      So all these could be his children, all in Tynemouth or NewcastleT ( both includes Northumberland)
      Implies he was alive after the war. Also he signed the slips ( if that is his signature) and returned to say he had received the medals – in his service records online at ancestry.
      hope this helps

  38. andrew manyweathers

    looking for any information on 175 tunneling company april 15 to sept 15
    my uncle died of his wounds joesph manyweathers in the september and researching any photo or diaries wich i can find out more info on him
    thanks every body

    • Andy – we have sent you an email dated 11 December with lots of information. Please let us know if you would like the war diary.

  39. Lorraine Squires

    My grandfather James Box was a tunneler. I don’t know what regiment he was with. He lived in Stoke-on-Trent (born 1895) until after WW1, then moved to Yorkshire. He died in 1931 as the result of a mine shaft collapse at Grimethorpe. My mother came to Canada in 1957. Any info you have would be greatly appreciated. If he’s in one of the photos, I would be able to lay eyes on him for the first time.

    • Dear Lorraine, We have just sent you an email with our thoughts on your grandfather’s wartime service. Best wishes, Admin Team

  40. I wonder if anyone has any information?My Father Talbot Charles John Wheeler was mustered as a Tunnellers Mate on 14/10/1915 in the 178 company of the Royal Engineers Army No.148455[he was formerly a miner]and remustered as a Tunneller the next day!On 3/8/1916 he joined the 258th comp. of the R.E.He survived the war and seems to have been demobilised on 21/01/1919. In 1921 he rejoined the Army as a military policeman but that’s another story!
    Any information about my father or the 2 companies he was in would be very welcome.

    • Dear Colin,
      We have sent you an email with the offer of these war diaries. Look forward to hearing from you.
      Best wishes,
      Tunnellers Memorial Admin Team

      • I, too, have found a great uncle, Fred Seddon regimental number 156416, who transferred to the 258th Tunnelling Regiment from the Loyal North Lancs Regiment on 9 July 1916 and was remustered as a tunneller, at the rank of corporal, on 1 January 1917. He returned to England on 30 March 1918, apparently due to ill health. It does not seem that he returned to the front after that. He was awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal in 1921, but no other more personal decorations (so far as I am aware).
        Would war diaries be likely to hold sufficiently detailed information so that I may learn more about my great uncle’s service? He was a clerk on the local co-op store in Leigh, Lancashire, before enlisting in November 1914 so does not seem the most likely material for a tunneller. Where might I find more information? Many thanks for any help.

        • Dear Chris,
          We have sent you an email with details of 258TC’s work and an offer of the Company war diary.
          Best wishes,
          Tunnellers Memorial Admin Team

      • Have received the Diaries they make amazing reading and I actually found my fathers name mentioned when he was with 178 Com. Many many Thanks
        Best Wishes

  41. anthony grainger

    looking for info on my great grandfather
    sapper thomas roberts 136218
    kia 17/4/16
    173 tunn co
    aged 41 on enlistment
    first married man from his village to be killed
    no known grave, believed to have been killed by an underground explosion
    many thanks

    • Dear Tony,
      We have sent you an email with details of 173TC’s work and the 17 April 1916 explosion at the Double Crassier at Loos.
      Best wishes,
      Tunnellers Memorial Admin Team

  42. Alistair Paterson

    This is a really informative website – thank you.

    My great-uncle, Wallace Campbell Paterson, was born in Glasgow in 1893. Following school he became a mining surveyor in the Fife Collieries. He joined the Territorial Forces in September 1914 before joining the Royal Engineers in January 1915, where he was able to use his mining experience in 173 Company as a tunneller. Wallace joined the France theatre of war in May 1915 and was promoted to Second Lieutenant in December 1915. He was killed on 17 February 1916, aged 23, and is buried in Noeux-Les-Mines cemetery. The company war diary for that day just says “Enemy mine exploded against Hant’s Crater. One R.E. officer and six sappers killed”. His service number was 76387.

    I would love to find out more about what 173 company was doing at the time and any more information on my great uncle, if anyone can help.

    • Dear Alistair,
      Your great-uncle’s service record is held at the National Archives in Kew under reference WO339/51690.
      We have sent you an email with an offer of 173TC war diary. Look forward to hearing back from you.
      Tunnellers Memorial Admin Team

      • I have just found this wonderful sight. My Great Uncle Sapper Jonah Pritchard 79418 was with 173 Tunnelling Coy. He died 08/03/16 and is buried Noeux-Les-Mines cemetery. Could you tell me where I can see the War diary? Also he trans to 173 from SWB. How can I find out when he transfered. Thank you so much for your help.

        • Dear Hazel – I have sent you an email with the necessary information. The war diary notes that No.15 mine entrance was closed by shell fire and ten men killed. This took place at the tunnel system at the Double Crassier near Loos in the Gohelle coalfields.
          Best wishes,
          Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  43. Excellent & well informed site. My great grand uncle a miner working the Netherton Colliery near Bedlington, Northumberland joined the Tunnelling Coy in Rouen on 11 Oct 1915, then 176 Tunnelling Coy from 10 Nov. In March 1916 he was injured & returned to UK. After recovering was posted to 184 TC on 15 Jun 1916 until 23 Mar 1917 (wounded again). April 1917 to 183 TC until discharged on 29 Nov 1918 (John Robert GREGG – 151278). I’m planning a trip to the battlefields around Ypres/Arras & Somme in the spring so any 176/184 or 183 TC War Diaries during the times my GGU served would be warmly received. The info I have was taken from his service records.

  44. Dear Admin team,
    Further to the above query from Chris Nicholls on Dec 30th, I am also trying to find out more information about Fred Seddon (Royal Engineers regimental number 156416, 258th Tunnelling Company), who was my grandfather.

    I would be very grateful if you could also send me a copy of the email with details of 258TC’s work and an offer of the Company war diary.

    Best wishes, John Seddon.

    • Dear John,
      We have sent you an email with an offer to send 258TC’s war diary and the surviving service record of Fred Seddon.
      Please let us know if you are keen to receive this.
      Best wishes,
      Tunnellers Memorial Admin Team

  45. Great site and very helpful to me at the moment as I am researching for a radio drama I’m currently developing. My protagonist is an ex-member of a Tunnellers Rescue Team, and now a new member of a Mine Rescue Team in Co. Durham in 1919. Can’t say anymore than that at the moment.

  46. Janey Ricketts

    My great grandfather Moses Williams, Sapper 120979, enlisted in Tredegar, south wales, and was in the 253rd Tunnelling Company. Killed in action 28th March, 1918 France & Flanders., aged just 35. Does anyone have info/records pertaining to the 253rd Company or Moses Williams?

    • Dear Janey,
      We have sent you an email with details of 253TC’s work and an offer of the Company war diary. Please let us know if you are keen to receive this.
      Best wishes,
      Tunnellers Memorial Admin Team

      • Janey Ricketts

        Thanks, that would be brilliant. Have emailed you. Fantastic that there is a site such as this to help. :)

        • Remarkably, Moses Williams my Great Grandfather as well. I would very interested in knowing more about 253rd Tunnelling Coy.

          • Dear Richard,
            I have the war diary for 253 Tunnelling Company from the National Archives. I am happy to burn a copy on disc and send it to you for free. Please reply to my email with your postal address.
            Best wishes,
            Jeremy Banning (Tunnellers Memorial Admin)

    • Hi

      I’m helping to get up a website called Blaenau Gwent Remembers, a website to honour those from the area who served during WW1. I would love to include your family’s history.

      Please email me if you’re interested and would like to find out more.



  47. An utterly brilliant site and thank you for the Information you have shared. I have a very brief copy of the 175th Tunneling Companys war dairy for March 1916 (when my great Grandfather died) but I was looking for any more information anyone might have about the 175th in the month before…or any pictures of the Company or anything related to their movements.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated

    • Dear Mark – We hope that the information sent by Jeremy Banning has been of use.
      Best wishes,
      Tunnellers Memorial Admin

    • Alan Tomlinson

      Hi, my great uncle was a member of the 175th , awarded the DCM for action in summer 1915 ( Hooge ) died 1916. Jeremy Banning was excellent with info. There are war diaries . Alan.

  48. I am trying to find out more about my maternal grandmother’s brother, Archibald Maitland DALGLEISH who signed up in Western Australia in 1916 and was with the 3rd Australian Tunnelling Company in France. He was I believe gassed in March 1917, and returned to England in April 1917 with Pleurisy. He was discharged and returned to Australia in September 1917 as a result of the Pleurisy. I would like to know where the 3rd were in early 1917.

  49. Seeking any information on the 174th Tunneling Company. My Great Grandfather Sgt Jack Sheldon, survived the campaign, being awarded the DCM for conspicuous gallantry, but not sure for what action, or where.

    • Dear Nick,
      We have sent you an email with details of 174TC’s work and an offer of the Company war diary. Please let us know if you are keen to receive this.
      Best wishes,
      Tunnellers Memorial Admin Team

      • Tim Quantrill

        I’m also interested in the 174th. Two of its members were killed in an attack on the German Tunnel Trench on November 20, 1917, the same day as my great uncle who was with the 156 Field Company of Royal Engineers who were in the same location as 174. The 156th war diary is very sketchy with no details of what happened that day and was wondering if the war diary of 174TC was any better?

        • Dear Tim,
          I have sent an email with a Dropbox link giving the relevant (and very detailed) pages from 174TC’s diary for the 20 November 1917 period.
          Best wishes,
          Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  50. Malcolm Smalley

    I am looking for any information on my Great Grandfather, Lance Corporal James Shove of the 173rd
    Tunnelling Company. Died 14 Apr 1916 and awarded DCM.
    Thanks in advance
    Malcolm Smalley.

    • Malcolm – apologies for taking so long to respond. I have sent you an email with the relevant information on.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  51. This is such interesting information, thank you. My grandfather was a mining engineer who was with 250th Tunnelling corps but I have not been able to track the associated war diaries for them. His name was John Gough Cunningham (His middle name is incorrectly quoted as “Cough” in his medal record!). Do you have any information about 250th or can you direct me please? He later joined 238th Light Railways – is this because the 250th disbanded – do you know? Thank you for any information

    • Dear Arwen,
      I have emailed you with the information you are after. Your grandfather’s service record survives and is held at the National Archives, Kew under reference WO339/43797 – see http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C1097690. You will either need to visit the archives yourself (if near) or employ a researcher to photograph this file for you.
      I have offered to send you the war diary of 250 TC on disc.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  52. June Dance nee Hall

    Dear Nick,
    After several visits to the National Archives and several searches on the internet I have come up with three regiment numbers belonging to three Thomas Halls 5707, 8131/354398, and 4696/147465 I was told that by my father that my grandfather was a tunneler in the WWl He had previously been in The Sth Staffs and sent to the Boer War he came out and was brickmaker I s there anywhere that Ican find out if any of these three were him. He was born in 1875 and would have been about 37 when he enlisted. His wifes name was Mary and possibly were living the Oldbury area at this time. I would be grateful of any help.

  53. I am trying to find more information about my grandfather. He enlisted 7 Aug 1915, Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada. I have some of his service record. The following info is from a Casualty Form Active Service Sapper George Crews Regimental Number 415305 He was with the 3rd Division. Some of the units mentioned in his papers are – 3rd Pioneer Bn 19-2-16; 123rd Pioneer Bn 20-7-17 admitted to No 51 Gen. Hosp, Etaples discharged to base 5-9-17; 6-5-18 Forfeits F.A. and 50 cents per day while in Hosp from 18-1-18 to 30-4-18 (103 dys) A story that has been told – my grandfather was buried alive and dug up by a buddy. The hospital stay of 103 days could be the result of him being buried. I haven’t found anything that states he was with a Tunnelling Unit. Are you aware of any records that might document the story.
    Another bit of interest – I was watching a documentary about 1 year ago where a gentleman was tracing his grandfather’s service during WW1. He found medical records from the field hospitals at a repository in France. The way he spoke it seemed the records were held at or near Vimy. I recall him talking about the records because he found that his grandfather did not seek medical help for a kidney infection until he was seriously ill. His grandfather died after the war due to kidney failure. Question is – does anyone know where these records could be?
    Any suggestions on places to search for documents will be greatly appreciated.
    I will be visiting Caen, Arras & Vimy Ridge for 4 days in April 2014. I hope to visit the Tunnellers Memorial.

  54. My Grandfather was a coal miner pre 1914 and enlisted in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders 27/8/14 before being transferred to the RE as a Sapper in Dec 1915. He served with 180 TC RE as 151269 Sapper Joseph Yates and was killed underground on 12 Mar 1916. It appears his section had been seconded in support of 170 TC where we believe he was killed due to enemy action underground opposite the Hohenzollern Redoubt. He was 39 years old and left a wife and 6 children (1 unborn at the time of his death).

    I would appreciate any information that may be relevant.

    • Dear David,
      I have sent you an email with the relevant information. The four men killed that day at the Hohenzollern Redoubt are all commemorated on the Loos Memorial. It is likely that it proved impossible to retrieve their bodies for burial so they remain where they were killed.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  55. fascinating site.
    I would like to know more about my grandfather’s war record, especially which tunnelling company he was in.
    His name was Sidney Manley, he was a miner in Wales. Born 1879 Hemyock Devon.
    regimental number 158206. He enlisted 19.2.16
    home 23.5.16 to 8.8.16
    BEF 9.6.16 to 12.7.16
    home 13.7.16 to 27.11.16
    BEF 28.11.16 to 20.9.17
    home 11.1.17 to 20.9.17
    He was mine gassed on 7.7.16, discharged on 20.9.17 as no longer fit for duty, after gassing again.
    I would like to know which company he served with, so I can research what happened, as he suffered with severe dermatitis near the end of his life. He was ordered to do things which as a miner he found opposite to training…
    When discharged would he have been sent to Chatham ? or to a hospital somewhere?
    Any comments would be gratefully received
    thanks Jane

    • Dear Jane,
      I have emailed you with some information plus a few questions.
      I look forward to hearing back form you.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  56. Dear Admin,
    I am a member of the Barton Stacey, Hampshire, Local History Group and we are commemorating the WWI in this village this year. I am trying to find out more about a Private Victor Cook (a native of Barton Stacey) of the, then, ASC, service number M/317832, who was attached to the 185th Tunnelling Company RE in, I think, 1915/16. He died 3 days after the Armistice on 14/11/18 and is buried at Entarple (?). Is there anyone who can enlighten me on why he died or any information concerning Vicor Cook. Thank you.

  57. Hi,
    My Great Grandfather 132451 Sapper Gavin McKenzie Dunn was 183 Tunnelling Company RE volunteered on 30 Sept 1915 and entered service in France on 17th Oct 1915 he was 47 had 24 years miner experience an 7 years 155 days previous military service with Seaforth Highlanders, he was discharged 10th May 1918 no longer fit for War Service, from his service record I have managed to ascertain he was in an accident with a saw loosing 4 fingers and injury to his forearm what I cant make out is the location in France could be something ending in “Lock or Loch? 183 TC war diaries have been digitized but not released for down load as on today. I am looking for photo’s of 183 TC I know they were instrumental in the Levine Flame Project.

    • Dear Hiram,
      I have emailed you with information today. My apologies for the delay.
      I had a look at Gavin Dunn’s service record and it is clear the accident with the saw took place at Peselhoek, just north of Poperinghe. See http://www.1914-1918.net/gaz_peselhoek.html for more details. I am also happy to send you a copy of the war diary for 183 Tunnelling Company.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  58. I have traced my greatgrandfather’s war grave and would like to find out more about his death.His name was Jeremiah O’connel and he was attached to the 250th tunnelling company.He died on 6th October 1916 and is buried at kemmel chateau war cemetary in Belgium.Could you please advise me where I can find out where he was serving when he died and if possible any pictures of the 250th that I could get.

    • Dear Tony,
      I have sent you an email with information and the offer of your great grandfather’s service record and the war diary for 250TC.
      His Medal Index Card shows he was killed a year (to the day) after his arrival in France.
      250 Tunnelling Company war diary for 6 October 1916 mentions one Other Rank (attached infantry) being killed in action. 250TC dug the deep-level mines (Petit Bois, Peckham and Spanbroekmolen) under the Messines Ridge south of Ypres. It was an extraordinary piece of work, skill and engineering. I have attached a few maps to my email that may help.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  59. Hi
    Does anyone have any information or photographs/maps of the 176th Tunnelling company please? I only know the little history I’ve been able to find online but it’s really quite vague and scarce.

    My Great Grandfather was attached to the 176th from December 1916 to April 1917. I’m really trying to find out what he was doing. I believe this was the preparation for the Vimy Ridge offensive. Can anyone help and offer advise please?

    Thank you very much

    • Dear Sam,
      I am happy to burn a copy of the 176TC war diary to disc and send it to you via the post. Please let me know. I have emailed you with this information plus a suggested reading list.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  60. Dominic lemonde

    I have recently found out from military records on ancestry.com that my great grandfather joined royal engineers in 1915 became a tunneller in the same year . He survived the war having served in France and Belgium finishing as a sergeant . He was christened William Bruce Lemonde but seems to have signed up as just Bruce Lemonde . Was hoping you may have records to say what company etc he served with and any hints to get more info.
    Thank you

    Dominic Lemonde

    • Dear Dominic,
      I have had a look on Ancestry for Bruce Lemonde and have found him. You are in great luck (most of the queries were receive are not so fortunate). Around 65-70% of ‘Other Ranks’ records from the war were destroyed in German bombing of London in 1940. It can make researching a soldier a very frustrating business. However, in your relative’s case, there is a surviving service record! I have downloaded it all plus his Medal Index Card and Medal Rolls and added it to a Dropbox link which I have emailed to you. You will see that he served throughout with 174 TC after his move to France in mid-June 1915.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  61. Roger Winfer


    Can you help me with any information about 253 Tunnelling. My grandad Robert Winfer was a tunneller he died in September 1917

    • Dear Roger,
      I have emailed you some information plus an offer of the 253TC war diary.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  62. Pingback: THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE | Pointe-Claire Public Library

  63. I know that my grandmother’s first husband was an Sapper and killed in the first world war so thankyou for the opportunity to learn a bit more about the courage and role of some of the men like him in the great war..

  64. Hi, my father and I always thought, from previous research that his grandfather john vaughan2470, died serving with the Mons near Ypres. It has come to light that he ay have been with 171 cpy. Do you know where they were in June 1915, not at hill 60 and not yest to ploegstreet.

    • Dear Nick,
      I have emailed you tonight with some information that should help. I have almost all of the TC diaries in my collection and have had a look at 171 Tunnelling Company but there is no mention made of any casualty that day. What source are you using with regard to his possible service with 171TC? His Medal Index Card shows he went overseas on 13 February 1915. 171 Tunnelling Company were still at Hill 60 when he was killed and only moved to Ploegsteert at the end of July.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  65. Wayne McDonald

    My Great Grandafther Sapper John M Franklin 175488 joined up in October 1915 originally in Army Service Corps but was transferred soon after to a RE Tunneling as he was a miner from New Skelton, Cleveland. He was 41 yrs old when joined up. He was sent to France to 174th on 22.7.1916 then transferred to 178th on 30.7.1916. He was wounded on 8-9/Sept 1916 I assume this was at High Wood on night of blowing 2nd crater?? He received shrapnel wound to face and left eye and was transferred to 1/3 N ‘bn’ Field Ambulance on 9/9/1916 then sent to Hospital at Rouen.
    He wounded several other times during his service. Luckily he survived and so does his service record. My grandmother never knew him or anything about him just his and her mothers namewere on her birth certificate. She was brought up in foster care. She died in 2004 not knowing any of info i’ve since found. it remains a family mystery to this day.
    Would love to see copy of 178th War Diary if anyone has for period July 1916 and till Dec 1916 when he was in hospital again at Etaples. And then 174th Diary from July 1918 when he was again admitted to Hospital and sent back to England

    • Dear Wayne,
      I have sent an email with an offer of 174 and 178TC war diaries.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  66. I have just found your excellent website. My great-uncle John Wilding, Sapper 104933, was in the Royal Engineers from 1915 to 1917 and was with the 253rd Tunnelling Company. He was from West Bromwich but enlisted in London in August 1915 age 37 (by which time he already had a wife and 6 children), giving his occupation as miner. He was discharged at Thetford Command Depot due to ill health in September 1917 and so survived the war. He and his wife went on to have another 5 children.

    I have his service record from the National Archives via Ancestry.com but I would love to find out more about the 253rd Tunnelling Company (I’ve read brief details about them on The Long Long Trail website at http://www.1914-1918.net/tunnelcoyre.htm)

    • Dear Jo,
      I have emailed you today to say that I am happy to send you the diary for 253 Tunnelling Company on disc by post for free.
      Are you still looking for this? I look forward to hearing from you.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  67. Richard Steel

    I have been researching the 254th Company on 30th November 1917, my interest is Albert Nightingale who was killed in action. The War Diary is really hard to fathom due to handwriting, can anyone help me with what the unit was working on at this time.



    • Dear Richard,

      I have sent you an email with additional information. Howvere, in summary I have 254TC diary in my collection plus the Weekly Progress Reports. Please find below my transcription of the day’s events:

      2/Lt PLANT reported form Base. Moved Headquarters of Company to New Camp at H.8.D.5.9 [a position south of Vlamertinghe]. Visited C.E. 8th Corps re. dug-outs in forward area and discussed scheme for same. 3 O[ther] R[anks] killed and 3 O[ther] R[anks] wounded.

      I have sent you the Weekly Progress Reports for this period. You will see the company was employed on maintaining the Potijze – Zonnebeke road. This is right in the middle of the Third Ypres (Passchendaele) battlefield and was subjected to very regular shelling. The role of the RE (be it Field Companies or Tunnellers (plus Labour Corps)) was to keep the ‘arteries’ to the front open. On many occasions this meant rebuilding the duckboard ‘plank’ road and filling in huge shell holes. As the men were working in the open they were in grave danger from shellfire (as illustrated in the war diary extracts). Other jobs involved creating dugouts plus the cleaning and reworking of German pillboxes.

      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  68. My grandfather, Capt Robert W Picken, was in the 182 Tunneling Company per his war records. I was wondering where I could find out more information about his service. Great site.

    • Dear Dave,
      I have sent you an email with details. However, as a brief summary here I have had a look and see that as an officer, your grandfather’s service record is held at the National Archives, Kew under reference WO339/39874 – see http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C1093768. His Medal Index Card confirms he went overseas to France and Flanders on 10 October 1915. I am happy to send you a copy of 182TC war diary after my next visit to Kew.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  69. Lisa Kavanagh

    Hi there i have a relation who was in the 181st tunneling company. His name was Eugene Kavanagh he died on the 28/11/1916. He was part of the royal engineers corps. Can you tell me any more info ?

    Many thanks

    Lisa Kavanagh

    • Dear Lisa,
      I have sent an email with details for you. In summary, his Medal Index Card (MIC) shows he went overseas to France (and Flanders) in 1914 with the Leinster Regiment. He would have transferred to the RE when in France. Sadly there is no war service record that has survived. Around 65-70% of ‘Other Ranks’ records from the war were destroyed in German bombing of London in 1940. It can make researching a soldier a very frustrating business.
      His CWGC record also gives some good information including his address and family: http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/502828/KAVANAGH,%20EUGENE
      I consulted ‘Soldiers Died in the Great War’ which is a separate database to the CWGC. It shows additional information, including his birth place, residence and where he enlisted. I have sent that plus his mention in Ireland’s memorial records.
      I have looked through 181TC’s diary and there is no mention of any casualties at all. As he died at Etaples (close to Boulogne) and, as noted in the SDGW, it is clear he died from wounds rather than being killed in action. As there is nothing noted in the diary and no surviving service record we cannot say when exactly he was wounded. However, I can tell you that 181TC were working in the northern part of the Somme battlefield at that time, making dugouts for troops. Their HQ was at Souastre, west of the front line at Hebuterne and Fonquevillers.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  70. Thanks again for the info on my grandfather William Jewess who was in the 177TC.I was wondering if Iain’s book on the 177th has been published yet and where I can get a copy?.

  71. Barrie F Herbert

    Looking for any info regarding my great uncle, Sapper Alexander Herbert, R. E. , d 20/01/1916, Buried Guards Cemy, Windy Corner, Cuinchy, Pas de Calais. Grateful for any help. Thanks, BFH.

    • Dear Barrie,
      I have sent an email with details for you.
      In precis, he served with 180th Tunnelling Company. Your great uncle’s unit is incorrectly noted on the CWGC records as 160th Coy. It should clearly be 180th Tunnelling Company. Some brief info on 180TC here: http://www.1914-1918.net/tunnelcoyre.htm
      The war diary for 180TC on 20 Jan 1916 reads “Germans sprung mine at head of Look Out main gallery which had been driven out 135 ft and was only 50 ft away from German salient. 4 men killed in gallery. No casualties among infantry.” The four men are all buried in the same grave reference at Guards Cemetery, Windy Corner. They are:

      1. 10715 Pte W Knapp, 5th Royal Berkshire Regiment
      2. G/5851 Pe J Sinclair, 7th Royal Sussex Regiment
      3. 132449 Sapper W Sneddon, 180TC Royal Engineers
      4. Sapper Alexander Herbert

      I have sent you his Medal Index Card (MIC) which shows he served previously in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry before his transfer to the RE. Sadly there is no war service record that has survived. Around 65-70% of ‘Other Ranks’ records from the war were destroyed in German bombing of London in 1940. It can make researching a soldier a very frustrating business.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  72. Hello, Great site, very very moving. Im looking for information about my grab great grandad James LOCKYER service no.156445, 10th Northumberland Fusiliers then transferred to RE 176th Tunnelling Co. on 30/06/16.
    There is mention in his records of a Military Medal being awarded and mentioned in the London Gazette on 14/09/16, but i can’t find anything there. Seems the 14/09/16 isn’t available don’t know why?
    The family story was that he used to refuse to wear it (and get in trouble) as there was some controversy with the officer he saved getting a much higher award, and as he was a miner and a cantankerous old bugger!!!!
    I’ve got some stuff of an ancestry site including his medal card but its not mentioned on there.However, I’m aware that the story may have a lot of embellishment. He was wounded on 01/06/17, but survived the war and lived into his 90′s.
    Thanks Lee

    • Dear Lee,
      I have photographs of the war diary for 176 Tunnelling Company from the National Archives. I am happy to burn a copy on disc and send it to you. Please send me your postal address.
      I have had a look through the war diary and cannot see any mention of an incident such s you described above. At this time the Company were working on Vimy Ridge. You should find this book of particular interest: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Underground-War-Ridge-Arras/dp/1844159760. I have emailed you the relevant entry in the London Gazette.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Tunnellers Memorial Admin)

  73. Ray Kingsland

    What a great site! I would like to share what I know of my great grandfather Joseph Henry Kingsland, he was 37 years of age when he volunteered for the 222 Tottenham Coy RE tunnelling Coy, he was working as a navvy digging parts of the London underground
    he was enlisted as a tunnellers mate May 1915, eventually the 222 Coy were attached to the 33 Division, he was at hill 60 but not sure exactly when ? as well as Ypres which he called Wipers, as was common at the time, he was in charge of the mules which he called donks, he made friends with an Australian tunneller by the name of Digger Wymark, Joe got into quite a bit of trouble going Awol around the Belgium towns for a nights drinking, even had the red caps collect him while overstaying his home leave, as well as
    earning field punishment number one several times, tied to the wheel of a field gun for the day, I dont think he liked taking orders from his much younger CO, who used to send most of Joes wages home to his wife and kids, Joe eventually was discharged 1918 after suffering the effects of mustard gas, the result was for years later he was doubled up in pain due to gas blisters on the lungs,
    he also went bald from the gassing, he proudly wore his silver war badge on his lapel and lived to the age of 87 when he died in 1965
    sorry its long winded, but just wanted to open a brief window to others.

  74. Gordon Ratcliffe

    My great grandfather, William Tabor, served with 173 TC from 1915. He initially enlisted in 1914 with 1st Battalion Royal Highlanders, Black Watch and I presume transferred in the early days to 173 TC as he was a miner at the outbreak of war in Bowhill, Fife. He survived WW1 and served also in WW2. He was Mentioned In Despatches in 1915 and I’m really keen to know more about this and his time as a tunnellers mate. My own ‘Cold War’ military experience seems to pale in comparison with what these men endured. I’m just at the start of my exploration and came across your great website. Any help with directing my studies would be most appreciated.

    Regards Gordon Ratcliffe

    • Dear Gordon,
      I have photographs of the war diary for 173 Tunnelling Company from the National Archives. I am happy to burn a copy on disc and send it to you for free. Please send me your postal address. Sadly William Tabor’s service record no longer exists (destroyed in WW2 bombing of London in 1940) but I have emailed you his Medal Index Card and the appropriate page on the Medal Roll for the British War Medal and Victory Medal.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Tunnellers Memorial Admin)

  75. kevin wilson

    Can you give me any information as to what tunnelling company Sapper Thomas Fitzgerald 136062 RE served in? This ex-miner took the oath on attestation at Rotherham, South Yorkshire, Oct 20th, 1915 and was invalided out in March, 1916 after being gassed, possibly by a camouflet while serving in the Ypres area. Any details of service of Spr Fitzgerald, my children’s great grandfather, including whether he was hospitalised in Newcastle, much appreciated.

    • Dear Kevin,
      I have had a look on Ancestry and found Thomas Fitzgerald’s pension record. From it you can see he served with 174TC from 30 Dec 1915 until his gassing on 17 February 1916. Prior to that he was with the 7th Entrenching Battalion.
      I have copied the photographs of the war diary for 174 Tunnelling Company from beginning Dec 1915 – end Feb 1916 and included them in a folder I have created on Dropbox – I have emailed you this as well as the pension record.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Tunnellers Memorial Admin)

  76. Rose Anne Gray

    My forebears were all miners, many of them serving in WW1, Is it possible that the name Wedlock, Heaney, or Thompson are among these brave men? Thank you for this site.

  77. Alison Collins

    I didn’t know very much about 1st world war until reseach my grandfather

  78. Graham Walters

    I am very interested in the activities of the 178th Tunnelling Company on 1st June 1916. The CWGC websit shows that 9 Sappers from that Company were killed on that date, all commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. Two of these were from my area in South Wales. I have searched the internet and see that the 178th were at the Tambour, Fricourt preparing three mines for detonation on 1st July 1916. However, considering tha there were 9 casualties on one day, I can’t find anything specific to 1st June 1916. I would be very grateful if someone could send me a copy of the war diary around that date or any other relevant information.
    Many thanks,

  79. I’m a little surprised that there are very few mentions of the “tunnelers” who have won awards during the “Great War”.
    My Great Grandfather’s brother, William Hackett (born in Snienton Nottingham) was one of those Tunnellers who was awarded a gallantry medal.

    I had heard family stories, but it wasn’t until a friend of mine (we both joined the forced together from the same town) that asked if my Great Uncle was William Hackett, then showed me his medal; which he’d seen at the RE museum in Chatham & the museum curator was surprised that I could tell him the story of how the award was won

    There are many documentaries that fail to mention the medals won by the “Tunnelers”

    Presenters tell us more .. the underground battle was a fantastic re-invention of medieval warfare, but many of the documentaries other than providing a window into the existence of the Tunnelers are otherwise a blank story .. One man’s story of bravery highlights other’s bravery.

    The element of secrecy whilst reality, is a guise because when William Hackett was Gazetted his wife received financial contributions from members of the RE who were based as distant as India & Africa, as well as those on the Western Front.

  80. Does anyone know if there are any photos of 170 TC 1915-18 looking for 86124 Joseph Herrington and also if anyone has access to 258 TC war diary a look up for Aug 13 1916 when 86123 2Cpl Enoch Dalton DCM and Bar was killed Thanks

    • Dear Ady,
      I have sent an email with the relevant page of 258TC war diary.
      With best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  81. Jamie Brown

    My Grand Uncle George Edward Sell was born in Kings Walden, Hertfordshire in 1891. He moved to Porth, Glamorganshire & was a Colliery Assisting Repairer on the 1911 census. He enlisted with the Royal Engineers (157794) in Caerphilly and was killed in action serving with the 172nd Tunneling Company on 14 Aug 1916. Does anyone have any information about George or the 172nd?

    • Dear Jamie,
      I have sent you an email with the relevant information you are after.
      The war diary for 172TC regarding your relative’s death notes that he was killed by carbon monoxide poisoning after a small German mine was blown. A number of men were killed in the same incident. This is whilst working on Vimy Ridge.
      Sadly there is no war service record that has survived. Around 65-70% of ‘Other Ranks’ records from the war were destroyed in German bombing of London in 1940. It can make researching a soldier a very frustrating business.
      I consulted ‘Soldiers Died in the Great War’ which is a separate database to the CWGC. It shows additional information, including his birth place, residence and where he enlisted.

      Name: George Edward Sell
      Birth Place: London
      Residence: Porth, Glam.
      Death Date: 14 Aug 1916
      Death Place: France and Flanders
      Enlistment Place: Caerphilly, Glam.
      Rank: SPR.
      Regiment: Royal Engineers
      Regimental Number: 157794
      Type of Casualty: Killed in action
      Theatre of War: Western European Theatre
      Comments: 172Nd Tunn. Coy., R.E.

      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  82. Michael Duffy

    My grandfather Matthias Duffy from Burnopfield, Co Durham was in the Royal Engineers serving along the front until his death in July 1917 near Heninel/Cherisy. He is buried at Heninel. I believe he served with the 50th Division, the 447 Northumberland Field Company. He was awarded the Military Medal shortly before his death and sadly may never have actually received the award.

  83. Andrea Thompson

    I am looking for information on my great grandfather Albert Bullimore who was with the 176thTC and was in France in 1915. Are there any books or other sources of information? Thank you, Andrea Thompson.

    • Dear Andrea,
      I have just sent you an email with plenty of information (including a link to your great grandfather’s detailed service record).
      Re. books, do try the following:

      Beneath Flanders Fields: The Tunnellers War 1914-1918 by Peter Barton, Peter Doyle & Johan Vandewalle
      War Underground: The Tunnellers of the Great War by Alexander Barrie
      Underground Warfare 1914-1918 by Simon Jones
      Tunnellers by Captain W. Grant Grieve & Bernard Newman

      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  84. peter williamson

    Congratulations on a wonderful web site. Benjamin Platts is related to my wife he joined the 7th batt east Yorkshire regiments number 13240 03/09/1914. He was transferred to 175 core R.E 18/08/1915. he died of wounds 26/11/1915. He was unmarried and living in digs at the time of his joining. His next of kin was never found. He is not listed in the Yorkshire roll of honor probably because he transferred to the R.E I cannot find any record of him there either. he may be in your photograph on this site have you any names?. Any information would be most appreciated, I have accessed the information on ancestry .com but it tells me nothing about his service.

    • Dear Peter,
      I have emailed you with details. It would appear from the war diary of 175TC that Benjamin Platts was either wounded on 24 November (the war diary notes that two men were wounded on the 24th) or 25th (one man was killed that day). 175TC were serving in the Hill 60 sector at this time. There are plenty more details on my email as well as an offer of the war diary of 175TC.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  85. My great grandfather Thomas Roberts served with the 173 TC and was killed in action on the 17 April 1916. Is there anyway that I can find records of the operations of the 173 TC up to the time he died and details of his service record, including where and how he died?

    • Dear Trevor,
      I have emailed you with details. It would appear from the war diary of 173TC that your great grandfather was one of a number of casualties the company sustained that day when the Germans blew a mine. There are plenty more details on my email as well as a link to his extant service record.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  86. Have been watching the excellent 1964BBC and CBC series on the Great War and reading Fighting the Boche , book on Gutenberg.
    I am delighted to find this site and to see that it has brought pleasure to descendants of those who served in that horror.
    Oddly, I don’t think I would have thought about mining in battle had it not been for the opening scene in the film of Cold Mountain.

  87. Chris Pickering

    My grandfather’s cousin, Lieutenant Christopher Morse, 178th Tunnelling Company, was killed in 1917. Is there any chance of my obtaining a copy of the disc of the War Diary mentioned above? Even if it doesn’t refer to him it would give us a better understanding of the dangerous work he was involved with.

    • Chris Pickering

      The actual date was 7 December 1917. I can’t find any information on google about what action there was that day so his death is a bit of a mystery at the moment. Might you have any records which could help?

    • Dear Chris,
      I have photographs of the war diary for 178 Tunnelling Company from the National Archives & RE Library. I am happy to burn a copy on disc and send it to you for free. Please send me your postal address.
      Did you know his service record can be obtained under Ref: WO339/13200 at the National Archives – see http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C1067129.
      I have sent you an email with more info.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Tunnellers Memorial Admin)

  88. Aileen Mortimer

    My grandfather was a Sapper in the 172nd Tunnelling Coy. He was killed on 19th December 1915. He has no known grave. How can I find out where the company were on that day? Thank you for your excellent website.

    • I have photographs of the war diary for 172 Tunnelling Company and can see that the company suffered a number of fatalities that day when a German shell landed in a dugout. I have emailed you the relevant page and a section of trench map showing the location (St Eloi). All nine men killed in this incident are commemorated on the Menin Gate, Ypres.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Tunnellers Memorial Admin)

  89. Matthew Cowan (REME)

    Great site with lots of good info, but I have a request for help.

    My Great Grandfather, (146952 Sapper Cowan, Matthew) served in the war as a tunneller. Matthew was a miner from Tarbrax in Mid-Calder, Scotland.
    He survived the war, but I believe he was injured at Messiaen ridge (pos 1916) when the sap he & four others were in was blown by the German tunnellers. All that I know is that he & one other survived with serious injuries, regrettably the others died.
    I have not been able to find any record of his service as his records are among the burnt as a result of the ww2 air raid.
    So if anyone can help in any with any information I would be most grateful.

    • I have had a look on Ancestry and you are quite right – there is no extant service record. Without this and having only a Medal Index Card to go on I am afraid it is very hard to provide the evidence. How are you sure it was on Messines Ridge?
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  90. My grandfather Joseph Ormston was a coal miner in the Gateshead area, he was a hewer. In the first world war he joined the Durham light infantry and was sent to France. His battalion was the 12th I believe that they were seconded to the royal engineers and were then sent to the tunnelling section as they had mining knowledge. I would like if possible to know if this was true as according to his discharge record he had scars on his legs I take this to mean he was injured in a mine area as the wounds sound like crush injuries the year of his discharge was 1917. If there is any information on my grandfather or his colleagues it would be much appreciated. Thanking You Philip Ormston.

    • Dear Philip,
      I have had a look for Joseph Ormston’s pension record on Ancestry and whilst the discharge record mentions scars on his legs this does not mean that these wounds were received whilst working with a specialist Tunnelling Company. As the record does not mention him working with any TC then I think you can assume he stayed with the 12th DLI. The pension record records his discharge is due to pain and palpitations of the chest – see the attachment to the email I sent you. I hope this helps.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Tunnellers Memorial Admin)

  91. My Great grandfather was in the 172nd Royal Engineers tunneling coy. His name was Peter Naylor Sapper 112859 & he was killed in action on 24th October 1916, he is buried at Ecoivres Military Cemetery, Mont St Eloi. Has anyone got any information about this company, I have no idea of how he actually died?

    • Dear Gill,
      I have the war diary for 172 Tunnelling Company from the National Archives. I am happy to burn a copy on disc and send it to you. I have emailed you with the relevant page of the war diary that shows your great grandfather was killed by a trench mortar.
      At this time the Company were working on Vimy Ridge. You should find this book of particular interest: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Underground-War-Ridge-Arras/dp/1844159760
      I hope this has helped somewhat.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Tunnellers Memorial Admin)

      • Dear Jeremy

        Thank you for all the information & disc you mailed to me, I’m sure it will keep me busy for a while. I’m hoping to get the book soon that you recommended, thank you again.

        I didn’t know anything about my great grandad because my grandad (his son) passed away when I was 11 and he never spoke about him.

        Kind regards, Gill

  92. Hoping that some one can tell me more about the work of the 250 tunnelling unit as my great grandfather Job Massey from Ashton under Lyne was a Sapper with this unit .. A great site for information by the way. Thank you.

    • Dear Susan,
      I have emailed you with details. It would appear from the war diary of 250TC that your great grandfather was one of a number of casualties the company sustained that day. More details on my email.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  93. I am looking for info on my great grandfather Hugh Devlin, who was a miner from Blantyre, Scotland and in the 179 Tunnelling Coy, Spr 79086, 7055
    Thank you

    • Dear Claire – I believe Simon Jones has been able to help you with information.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Tunnellers Memorial Admin)

  94. I was so impressed by this website that I have directed all the members of my family towards it. As an engineer I found it totally awe inspiring and insightful.
    I am trying to research more about my great grandfather Sapper Thomas Brough who served in the 175th TC and was killed on Christmas Day 2015 near Ypres. (I believe he was killed during the famous Christmas Day Armistice). I visited his Grave at the railway dugout cemetery in June 2014 and this encounter has inspired me to try and find out more about his short life in service. He died aged 47, leaving behind his wife Amanda and seven children and like so many of his colleagues, lied about his age in order to serve (I believe the age limit was 45?) Can anyone help me to find out more about his service record, about his company or indeed anything published about the life of a Sapper or tunneller in WW1. I would be so very grateful. Miles Brough

    • Dear Miles,
      I have emailed you with details. It would appear from the war diary of 175TC that your great grandfather was the only casualty the company sustained on Christmas Day 1915.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  95. Looking for info on 183 TC, I know the diary is at the NA but wont be in London anytime soon.
    Researching Frederick Eddy 121843 KIA 01/12/15. 1 December: Nine men and one officer from No. 183 Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers, are killed near Fricourt after the detonation of an enemy mine leads to the crushing of galleries; two men were gassed when escaping and one officer and two men were crushed in the collapse of a shaft lodgement.

  96. A thank you to Jeremy Banning for providing me with further information, including maps of the location of this incident.


  97. I wonder if anyone can help.
    My Great Grandfather-112826 Sapper Sidney Daniels of 172 Tunneling Company RE was killed in Loos on 16 Oct 1915. I am trying to find details of his journey to Loos from his home in Derbyshire , he was a miner in Mapperley Colliery.
    This site is excellent and I am halfway through the book Beneath Flanders Fields and have read the appropriate bits of the Royal Engineers History (Vol 5) and the amazing book Tunnelers by Grieve and Newman. As an ex Serviceman who fought in Iraq I am amazed at the stoicism and courage of all who fought underground.

    I can find no reference to 172 TC in Loos up to his dath on 16 Oct 1915 and I suspect Sidney was killed after the battle (There seemed to be little tunneling in support of the Battle of Loos Sep – Oct 1915) if anyone has access to 172 TC war diaries or other information I would be most grateful for a pointer to the Companies movements and even if the Death of Sidney (no known grave so I suspect killed by underground explosion) is mentioned in the War Diaries.

    We plan to go to France this year to commemorate 100 years since Sidney’s Death and will pay our respects at the Tunnelers memorial – a shame such gallant activity receives such little recognition – well done the the Team at Tunnelers Memorial. It will be the start of many trips I am sure.


    • I have photographs of the war diary for 172 Tunnelling Company. I am happy to burn a copy on disc and send it to you for free. Please send me your name and postal address.
      172TC were working at St Eloi south of Ypres at this time (so not near Loos). The war diary entry of 15 October mentions a German mine and camouflet killing British miners.
      I have emailed you with more information.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Tunnellers Memorial Admin)

  98. Recently extending my family history research, I started finding out information about my maternal Grandfather’s brother David Bowen (having come across a photo of him on horseback in Amy uniform). He has an almost unbelievable history outside his military career. Growing up in the Rhondda as one of 11 children, he left school at age 12 and went to work in the mines. Studying by candlelight into the early hours after a day in the pit, he taught himself English, Latin and Science. He won a scholarship to University of South Wales & Monmouthshire in Cardiff.
    After 4 years of study he took post as Lecturer in School of Mines, Camborne, then he moved to Leeds University as Asst Professor, later becoming Head of Mining Dept. Taking on an increasing amount of private consultancy work he left the University in1913.
    I know he took a Commission in Leeds Rifles (or West Yorks Regiment) in 1914, then being seconded to Royal Engineers and the Tunnelling Companies, where he found a large number of former students from Camborne and Leeds.
    In 1919 he was admitted as a student to Lincolns Inn, passing final bar exams in 7 months and being called to bar in 13 months. He specialised in mining and patent matters. He was appointed Kings Counsel in 1938 at the same time as Lord Denning.
    Whilst I have the basic information as above I would be very interested in any more detailed records of his wartime service. I am in the process of organising a battlefield trip in April with fellow members of the local British Legion Branch.
    Many thanks. Linda

  99. Ref Sapper Thomas W. Mills, regimental no. 139237 183 rd Tunnelling Co. Royal Engineers. Died 13th March 1916. Can it be confirmed he was working on tunnelling prior to the Somme Offensive with the 183rd? Any further info gratefully received.

    • Dear Neil,
      I have sent you an email with a Dropbox link with the relevant pages of the war diary for 183TC regarding the 13 March 1916 incident. Sapper Mills was definitely working on tunnelling prior to the Somme Offensive. He was killed when the Germans fired a camouflet at Carnoy. The war diary notes this and the map shows the two galleries mentioned (plus shows the suspected position of camouflet blow).
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Admin)

  100. Hello, I am doing some research for a family whose ancestor was in the 177th tunnelling company from june 1915 until his death in june 1917, do you have the war diary for that company? and how much do you charge?.

    Thank you.

    • I have photographs of the war diary for 177 Tunnelling Company. I am happy to burn a copy on disc and send it to you for free. Please send me your name and postal address.
      A colleague of mine, Iain McHenry, has recently finished a book on 177TC. I can put you in touch with him if you are interested?
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Tunnellers Memorial Admin)

  101. Thank you Jeremy, Private Thomas W. Mills is also commemorated on the Ince in Makerfield War Memorial in Ince Cemetery just east of Wigan Lancashire.

  102. My great grandfather Stephen Charles Haynes served with 183 TC reg no 147475 killed 27/7/16
    We are planning visit to Thiepval in June to honour Steven and would love any information relating or how to access War diary

  103. Just come across this website whilst doing some preliminary academic research into tunnelling companies during 1917… Thank you, I’ve found it so useful. Also – have recently found out my great-great grandfather, William Purdy, was in 178th and 255thTC. Wounded with 178th in July and on return, transferred to 255th and promoted before dying of wounds in May 1918. Any further info on these companies during these times would be gratefully received! Hoping to make it down to the National Archives in April but curiosity is getting the better of me! Many thanks.

  104. Would be very interested in any detail on the 175th TC in the last months of the war – Pte Ernest Marcus Humphries / Humphrys 198032 formerly 14447 1/Worcestershire served with the 175th and died at the 9th USA General Hospital at Rouen on the 1st September 1918. He’s on the local war memorial I’m researching in Bewdley, Worcestershire. Was this their ‘bridging the Ancre’ period?


    Simon Fielding

    • Dear Simon,
      Many thanks for your query. I am afraid that all war diaries for 175TC are missing from August 1817 onwards. As such, I do not have the requisite details in my collection to be able to help you. Grant Grieve and Newman say that they were bridging the Ancre in August 1918 (perhaps where you got the reference from?)
      Other than that, I am afraid that I do not have the information that can help.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning
      (Tunnellers Memorial Admin)

  105. My Uncle Sapper Edward Laity 104929 was a miner in Camborne Cornwall, he joined the 251st Tunnelling Cpmpany Royal Engineers and was killed 10th March 1918 age 21. He is buried at Cambrin Cemetary
    I am doing a project of him, and although i have not any photos I do have my grandparents details and any informatio0n i can put into this project would be appreciated

    • Dear Maggie,
      I have the war diary for 251 Tunnelling Company from the National Archives. I am happy to burn a copy on disc and send it to you. Please send me your postal address. I have looked at the period around 10 March 1918 and am afraid there is no mention of his death. The Company were actually working at Givenchy (where the Tunnellers Memorial stands) at this time. No mines were being fired in March 1918 so it is possible he died from shellfire. The database of Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919 shows he was ‘Killed in Action’.
      You may be interested to hear Fred Brown, a tunneller with 251TC describing his work in 1916 at Cuinchy: http://jeremybanning.co.uk/2013/04/03/audio-recordings-of-tunneller-256302-sapper-fred-brown-251-tunnelling-company-re/
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Tunnellers Memorial Admin)

  106. Kathryn Ellis

    Is there further information I can obtain regarding the 172nd TC and in particular around the time of the death of my Great Uncle’s death – James Henry Williams who was KIA on 23.6.1916? (112716) Also I know he entered France 22.11.1915 and died 23.6.1916 – would the men have been in France continuously during that time? Many thanks.

    • I have photographs of the war diary for 172 Tunnelling Company taken by myself when at the National Archives. I am happy to burn a copy on disc and send it to you. Please send me your postal address. I have sent you an email with the relevant page of the war diary that shows your great uncle was killed by shellfire. At this time the Company were working on Vimy Ridge. You should find this book of particular interest: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Underground-War-Ridge-Arras/dp/1844159760. Prior to their move south to Vimy 172TC were working at St Eloi (and the Bluff) south of Ypres. It is very likely that your great uncle was with 172TC during his entire period in France.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Tunnellers Memorial Admin)

  107. Ken Pritchard

    My great uncle John Pritchard was a lance corporal in the 2nd Battalion Monmouthshire Regiment (service number 267518). He was killed in action on12/04/1918 somewhere in Flanders. He is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial in Flanders. He was a miner from South Wales. Is it possible that he was transferred to a tunnelling company?

    • There is nothing to show that John Pritchard served with any Tunnelling Company. 2nd Mons were Pioneers to the 29th Division and were fighting in the Battle of the Lys when he was killed. As a member of a pioneer battalion his mining skills (and handiness with a shovel) would have been very useful. This is not to say that he never served as a tunneller – merely that there is nothing in ay extant record to indicate it. Sadly, like 65-70% of Other ranks, his service record was destroyed in 1940 by German bombing of London.
      Best wishes,
      Jeremy Banning (Tunnellers Memorial Admin)

  108. Maggie Laity

    Hi Jeremy, thank you for your reply here. I am replying to your email with my home address
    I appreciate the link you have put and will certainly listen to this

  109. Simon Fielding

    I have just found out a family TC connection – seems my great grandfather’s elder brother served with the 182 TC from 1st to the 21st October 1916 -1560 Pte James Heath 3/KRRC; where were the 182nd at the time? Any suggestions very welcome!

  110. Simon Fielding

    I have just found out a family TC connection – seems my great grandfather’s elder brother served with the 182 TC from 1st to the 21st October 1916 -1560 Pte James Heath 3/KRRC; where were the 182nd at the time? Any suggestions very welcome!

  111. Please feel free to contact on johnturnbul200@yahoo.com
    I still have pvte john booths matchbox cover of the loyal north Lancashires engraved with his name
    Any info would be of interest

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