Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by fairy_nuff, Jun 13, 2011.

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  1. A few years ago on a battlefield tour on the Somme, we were shown a dug out that had been found when the farmer's tractor collapsed it. You could still see the shovel marks.

    Funnily enough, it was seen in Richard Holmes' War Walks, exploring the first day of the Somme.
  2. Can't remember if I read it or saw it on a documentary but a Welsh miner, who had been drafted to dig the mine tunnels, said the they would sometimes dig into a German tunnel and rather than shoot at each other both sides would mention that it would be a good idea to report sick on particular days. He never passed this information back up the chain of command...
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  3. All the accounts I have ever read or seen on telly described tunnelling as being quite nasty.

    Most break throughs eneded up with some nasty hand to hand fighting, not quite sure if they stopped to have a chat and tell the other side when not to be digging, I'm fairly sure if someone told the enemy not to go digging on that day I'm sure they would go straight back and warn higher as it would mean the death of you fellow county men?
  4. oldbaldy

    oldbaldy LE Moderator Good Egg (charities)
    1. Battlefield Tours

  5. In Aisne, and just off the Chemin des Dames, there is a network of limestone caverns which where used by the French and Germans as field hospitals and command posts - sometimes simultaneously and with only an ad hoc pile of rocks separating them.

    The guide who showed us round said that when both parties were there they generally had an agreement to leave each other alone!
  6. mercurydancer

    mercurydancer LE Book Reviewer

    Im glad that the archaeologists are going to leave the lads where they lay. Its their tunnel after all.

    There have been some significant finds recently, the tunnel system under Arras for example.

    La Boiselle is a pretty place, and its quietness belies its tactical position.
  7. Wordsmith

    Wordsmith LE Book Reviewer

    It was indeed an exceptionally nasty way to fight a way and it must have required a special kind of courage. On the British side it was done by the Royal Engineers.

    The Tunnelling Companies RE of 1914-1918

    The Germans started it by exploding 10 small mines in December 1914. From then on an underground war started with mine and counter mine. The risks were very high with death coming from counter mines (camouflets), cave ins and poisonous gases such as carbon monoxide. It was also not a war for the claustrophobic. The tunnellers worked in narrow tunnels in often unstable ground and often in near darkness.

    One story that always stuck in my mind was Sapper Bedson. He was trapped with a small part of men by a German counter mine in 1916. The other men refused Bedson's advice to conserve their energy and lie quietly waiting for rescue. Instead they tried to dig their way out and soon died from lack of oxygen. Bedson crawled to the highest part of the remaining tunnel so he had the best possible air, took the glass from his watch so he could feel the hands and laid for six and a half days in absolute darkness waiting for rescue. He had a half filled water bottle and two hard biscuits. Worse, he couldn't know if that rescue was coming, because the rescuers dug in silence so as not to arouse German counter measures. When he was eventually rescued he was weak but well and said "Its been a long shift; for God's sake give me a drink". I'd have gone stark raving mad if it were me...

    The biggest mines exploded in the war were in June 1917 under German lines at Messines as a preliminary to the battle of Passchendaele. They involved 8,00 yards of tunnel and 600 tonnes of explosive in a number of mines. The blasts killed about 10,000 Germans and could be heard in London.

  8. Fascinating stuff still turning up.

    I recall (either read it or saw on the telly), that some RE Tunneling Companies were called up from the mines and sent to the front so fast, that proper basic training was usually brief or non existent.
    Consequently, a lot of these lads rifles were taken off them as they were more of a danger with them to each other than to the enemy.
  9. Yes there are all sorts of stories like that however it's a different scenario to that of tunnelling as these where mostly trying to get under the enemy lines and blow the hell out of it.

    it surprises me that the French would do those sort of agreements seeing as they destroyed most of their male population in Verdun, trying to stop the Germans.

    On a discovery channel programme I watched went on about frequent break throughs ended in pitch black hand to hand where you felt for the guys epaulets then stabbed him!
  10. You'd have thought so, but if someone told you that they stopped fighting on xmas day for a game of footie, you wouldn't believe them unless you'd learned about it previously.
  11. oldbaldy

    oldbaldy LE Moderator Good Egg (charities)
    1. Battlefield Tours

    Not far away.
  12. Again the football match is taken in a different context.

    It just doesn't tie up as seeing as this was so clandestine to the extent of listing saps and counter mining that it sees to be one of the myths of the war, along the lines of the crucified Canadian?

    Hmm I'll check my diary.
  13. Goatman

    Goatman LE Book Reviewer

    If any Arrsers are in the Portsmouth area, there's a talk on this topic tomorrow night, by Simon Jones a former curator of the RE museum;


    < BUMP >