NZ'S FIRST WORLD WAR CENTENARY 2014–2019

Kiwis Underground

This photography project documents the work of the New Zealand tunnellers in Arras during the First World War.

The New Zealand Tunnelling Company made Arras their home during the First World War. Experienced miners drawn from every mining district in New Zealand, they were formed in September 1915 due to an urgent request from Britain and would become part of the 25,000 British, Canadian and Australian tunnellers working on the Western Front.

The NZ Tunnelling Company arrived in Arras on the 15th of March 1916. In September 1916 Officers of the Company discovered a series of underground quarries that dated back to medieval times. These quarries had the potential to create an underground city that could house 25,000 soldiers and a safe and secret route to the front line.

The Kiwis or “Diggers”, as they were known at the time, went about connecting the quarries through a series of tunnels that would eventually take them from the centre of Arras to under the German front line. Each connecting quarry was given a New Zealand place name and the miners remembered the “home” they knew and recreated it under the battlefields of France. All this work was done in preparation for the Battle of Arras which began on the 9 April 1917.

A hundred years on and with little physical evidence left above ground to indicate the battle of Arras in 1917, the underground complex provides us with a physical connection to the battle which would result in 158,000 British casualties in a protracted battle that would see Allied and German casualties reach close to 300,000.

The tunnels are a “Time Capsule” which speaks to us through the messages, drawings and names carved into its walls by those that lived there. The British soldiers who passed through these quarries on the way to battle, the signallers and cooks on duty in this underground city, the stretcher bearers waiting to bring back the wounded by the underground railways, and those that built and maintained this underground city: the New Zealand Tunnellers and the Maori and Pacific Islanders from the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion.

Killington has explored the underground spaces including the tunnels, caves, and sewers associated with these men of 1917. He has followed their footprint and documented the trace of the events they were involved with. From this exploration Killington has created a series of images that allows you to be part of this tunneller’s world that has been left in darkness for a 100 years.

Project can be found on www.64stops.com

This activity is being worked on from
2013
Date added: 25 November 2013 | Last updated: 19 July 2014

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