At a war council in 1916, the French and British approved a top-secret mission requiring extensive manpower.
Four-hundred New Zealand miners, who had volunteered for the British Army, were sent to Arras, France. Their orders: to dig tunnels connecting the old quarries in preparation for a surprise attack against German forces. Major[SZ1] John Evelyn Duigan led this unique company of men, aged 30 to 50, who had traveled across the planet to answer the call of the distant motherland. If their mission succeeded, they would save the lives of the soldiers by avoiding the carnage of a conventional attack.
These dedicated miners held the fate of the war at the end of their picks. After months of sweat and determination, they had chipped away 19 km of tunnels through the limestone base of the city of Arras. The first part of the underground mission was accomplished.
Soon, 24,000 soldiers entered the tunnels to billet there before the day of the attack. They were young, they were terrified, and yet at 5:30 AM, on April 9, 1917, they would storm the German lines with heroic ferocity. One-third of them would die.
The miners’ covert contribution to the Battle of Arras was so secret that it was forgotten from history books. Today, it is our duty to remember and honor the men who shaped, in darkness, one of the most improbable works of the Great War.
With insights from internationally renowned historians and the archives of the Wellington Quarry Museum, "War miners: the Covert Mission Beneath Arras" will recount and commemorate the incredible story of the chalk tunnels.