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Tunnellers' Memorial

First World War Memorial to the Tunnellers

It was a great honour to be involved in the memorial to William Hackett VC and the Tunnelling Companies of the First World War. We were commissioned to do both the carvings and the engravings of very poignant inscriptions dedicated to the exceptional bravery of these men.

On the morning of 22 June 1916, Sapper William Hackett and four other miners of 254 Tunnelling Company, were driving a tunnel towards the enemy lines below the cratered surface of the Givenchy sector of northern France. At about one quarter of the way towards the German trenches, at a depth of about 35 feet, the timbered gallery 4’3” high by 2’6” wide was still in the early stages of development. It was served by a single shaft – the Shaftesbury Shaft. At 2.50am the explosion of a heavy German mine (the Red Dragon) blew in 25 feet of the tunnel, cutting the five men off from the shaft and safety. On the surface, a rescue party was immediately organised. 

After two days of digging, an escape hole was formed through the fallen earth and broken timbers and contact was made with the tunnellers. William Hackett helped three men to safety. However, with sanctuary beckoning, and although himself apparently unhurt, he refused to leave until the last man, seriously injured 22 year-old Thomas Collins of the Swansea Pals (14th Battalion, the Welsh Regiment), was rescued. His words were said to be, “I am a tunneller, I must look after the others first”. The rescuers worked on, but were frequently immobilized by German shelling and mortaring of the shaft-head. Conditions above and below ground became more treacherous by the minute. Eventually the gallery collapsed again, entombing the two men. Both still lie beneath the fields of Givenchy where the memorial stands in memory to these men. To find out more please visit http://www.tunnellersmemorial.com/.

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