2nd Tunnelling Company

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Tense Moment in Trench Mining Operations. Courtesy Ballarat Heritage Services Picture Collection

2nd Australian Tunnelling Company

Of the professional miners in the 2nd Tunnelling Company many were from Victoria, a state which gained fame through its large goldfields. The Alluvial gold was found in the sand and gravel associated with a series of deep leads in towns such as Ballarat and Bendigo, The Victorian miners were therefor perfectly situated to tunnel into the loose sandy soil encountered on the Belgian Coast at Nieuport Bains.[1]

The 2nd Australian Tunnelling Company were allotted the sector in the water-logged area to the south, with headquarters in Armentieres.[2] They went to Neuville St Vaast and then moved to Nieuport to construct subways for Operation Hush.[3]

They created some of the largest dugouts at The Rampart, within the south-western rampart wall at Ypres. The dugouts could accommodate up to 1200 men.[4]

By 1917 the 2nd Australian Tunnelling Company had lost 89 dead, including 20 who died in a single blow at Hill 70 in November 1916.[5]

In mid-1917 the 2nd Tunnelling Company moved to Nieuport.[6]

Enlistments in the 2nd Australian Tunnelling Company from Ballarat and Surroundings

A

John William Allan; Thomas Andrew; Walter Andrew;

B

Percy A. Barrow; Leslie Arthur Beaton; William Bennetts; Henry S. Bowerman; Francis M. Bruce

C

Walter Campbell; Archibald Chisholm; Arthur William Cooke; Robert T. Cooke

D

Frederick Daniel; Sydney C. Dubout; E. J. Delaney; Reginald George Dickson; Martin Dunn; George Dowson; Harold R. Dalton;

F

Charles Ferrari

G

Clarence A. Gordon; Leslie Grut

H

Thomas Halvey; James Hambleton Patrick J. Hanley; Samuel Hickey; Thomas Hiorns; Percy W. Hocking; Stanley Hunter

J

William M. Jenkins

K

Jacob Kauffman; Mack J. M. Kerby; Ernest Kihang

L

Thomas Lawson; Samuel M. Leece; Lionel Lambert

M

John Mackin; John H.W. McGain; J. McInroy; W. M. McLachlan; William Alexander McNaughton; James Muir; David G. Muxworthy; Thomas Muxworthy

N

Richard E. Neal;

P

James Powell;

R

Alfred Reed; Alexander A. Rowe; Thomas R. Rumble

S

David E. Simpson

T

Ralph H. Lewis

W

P.W. Wagstaff; James Wallace; Arthur Ward; William John Warne; Samuel Watson; Charles A. Wood; Albert John Woolcock

Accounts

The Miners' Corps. "UNDERGROUND ARTILLERY." "Willie Wombat", writes from France, under date - November 1, to the "Sydney Morning Herald" concerning the Miners' Corps,- which contains many Broken Hill men:-
For considerably more than a year before Haig's great 'quake launching the battle of Messines, Australian miners, in conjunction with others from all parts of the Empire, worked in a mysterious silence. Beyond an occasional scrap of news that they were doing splendid work, and engaged on a most important job, little was heard of them until that long to-be-remembered morning when the news went forth to the world that the almost impossible had been achieved.
But as some time has elapsed since that memorable event-or, in soldiers' parlance, "stunt"-I will now essay to tell one of many stories that have yet to be recorded; one, in fact, that, when all stories of mining are told, will for activity on both sides for the given period establish a record ; and if not, it will be not far from the top of the list.
The tale that I am going to tell is about the second Australian Tunnelling Company-originally No. 2 Company of the Australian Mining Corps and how it became to be known as "the underground artillery."
It was in a certain place in a sector of considerable strategic and tactical importance, in which there were at that time keen and active mining ope rations, by the enemy. This part of the line was held by Australians and with the advent of the miners at this particular period the Huns, for the first time on the Western front, were, confronted by Australians in-every depart- ment of war with this exception of aerial work. I have since learned that there were Australian flying men in the squadron which conducted observation work for the troops at that time.
As was usual, our dashing infantry, in conjunction with equally as good artillery, maintained the usual high standard of their soldierly qualities, as well as introducing to the Hun many new features of trench warfare as daring and bold as they were novel. The enemy knew they were up against Australians, for did they not welcome them by displaying a notice over their parapet with the inscription, "Advance, Australia ! If you can!" and the arrival of the miners gave them further opportunity in their publicity department to display in a like manner, "Welcome 500 Australian miners."
With these taunts in their minds it was quite natural that our army - I include the New Zealanders - would not take things lying down. Many of them were hardened veterans of Gallipoli and Egypt, and they very soon put into practice the adage that there should be no peace for the wicked. They organised all sorts of "stunts," anything and everything to pest Fritz. "Keep tickling' him up" was their motto; and they did. And as was only natural to suppose, this method of procedure drew retaliation-what was ready asked for, events soon be- came interesting.
A blow by either party would quickly go the rounds, and as this branch of warfare increased in activity the front-liners declared that the Miners were pumping more, good stuff into the Hun than the artillery, and so it came to pass that as banter continued same wag referred to the diggers the "the underground artillery."
To be nicknamed by brother soldiers from the same sunny clime was considered a very great honor and full of good fortune; as well as being accepted in a grand form of brotherly comradeship, for it was on this field that many old mates renewed friendship, and where brothers met, and father and son clasped hands-for the first time since the main Expeditionary Force left Australian shores. To the Miners it-appeared as a happy omen that they should take rip their posts in the front battle line, with their own kith arid kin and as a result a great national pride soon became established through- out the company. It was only natural that they should try to acquit them- selves as creditably and as gloriously as their veteran brothers. And I believe' that this lucky commencement was the real beginning of the fame and honer that have been their reward since coming to France, for to-day to its credit it must be recorded that it is regarded by General Headquarters as the crack mining company of the Western front.
It is only my intention at present to cover a period of the past 20 weeks of the company in France, in which period the combined effort of the Australians and the enemy resulted in the explosion of 35 mines, 24 of which were, blown by the former, and 11 by the latter, or, in other words, the Australians blew twice as often as the Huns, plus a shade to spare. And when one comes to realise the explosion on an average of over a mine per week it must be admitted that it was a very creditable performance, for human energy" can only do its best. In addition the geological conditions and other-wise were not the best.
For several days the enemy had been heard working up in the direction of a certain sap, and it was decided to allow him to come as close as advisable, and a week after our last blow we fired at half-past 7 in the morning. The listeners had a most anxious and exciting time, for minute after minute and hour after hour they could hear the enemy getting closer and closer. Anyhow, all went well, for the miners exploded their mine just as the enemy was about to break through into our subway. This was an exciting piece of work, and proved to be most profit- able, by reason of the certainty of the proximity of the enemy's working. After this punishment, and the apparent useless efforts of the enemy miners to get, the best of the Australians underground, the Hun subjected this particular, part of the workings to a heavy minenwerfer fire of the heaviest calibre. These large-sized "Minnies" are capable of penetrating the ground for some distance, arid on explosion blow a crater rip to 20ft. deep by 40 to 50 feet wide, so that it will be apparent the amount of headcover necessary for safety in running galleries under no man's land. The attempt was, however, abortive, and no dam- age was done.
A week after these last desperate attempts of the enemy, as the result of was anticipated. Our luck was in, so enduring work, the Australians fired another mine, and with a success that was anticipated, ur luck was in, so everyone said, but I firmly believe I that, whilst a certain amount of it was in our favor, we had grasped from the very beginning the secret of defensive mining. What evidently perplexed the Huns most was that they were of opinion that at this particular point our policy was offensive work. Instead it was defensive. The Australian miners work was to cut Fritz off and let him have it and to wait for him at other places and hand him out the usual medicine.
For a week there was quietude on both sides, the Australians enjoying themselves in addition to exercising great care as to nun movements in carrying out a tactical move by preparing a mine on the left as the signal for attack on the right of the Australian division in the battle of Fromelles. It was at 6 p.m. at this strategical point that a large mine was blown, forming an excellent crater, in which many Australian infantry took cover, maintaining a withering and punishing fire on the enemy.
Six days following this affair the enemy exploded another mine in the vicinity of our workings, doing no damage and causing no casualties.
Almost three weeks elapsed before any more activity took place, when early one morning the enemy fired a charge which caused slight damage to our galleries and killed two men. These were the Australians first causalities underground, and were men from an Australian pioneer battalion attached to the company. The same day the Australians replied with a powerful charge and gained their objective. In this part of the sector nothing more was heard from the enemy in the matter of blowing mines for six weeks.
By this tame it was generally accepted that in this point of the mining system we had also mastered the Hun. Anyhow, during that period three powerful mines were exploded with great destructive force having in mind two things - first to let the enemy know we were still active and, secondly, to point out to him that he was beaten, and that it was useless for him to continue the repairing of the wreckage caused. However, at the end of the time stated, the enemy blew another mine which caused slight damage to our workings; but no casualties. It was his last explosion in this part, and as it was the second vital spot of the mining system that had been completely defeated, he had to give the game up. A week later, after this last, effort, we gave him a final, charge, which was the end of active mining in a sector which had asked for-the best that human energy and endurance could give. After making certain that the Hun had been completely defeated, the company took its departure to a certain place to assist in the good work that was being done in the ground preparation for Messines.
And on their departure the officer commanding received a letter from the high, command eulogising the patience and perseverance, energy and gallantry of all ranks of the company, and asking that congratulations be conveyed to all for having "so completely mastered the enemy mining system.
During the period referred to the company had placed to it's credit one mention in despatches, one D.C.M., and five Military Medals.
Major Professor David, commanding the Miners' Corps, was among the New Year's honors; awarded the D.S.O.[7]

Also See

Australian Mining Corps

1st Tunnelling Company

3rd Tunnelling Company

4th Tunnelling Company

5th Tunnelling Company

6th Tunnelling Company

Other Sites

http://tunnellers.net/corps_history/foreword.pdf


References

  1. Finlayson, Damien, Crumps and Camophlets, Big Sky Publishing, N.S.W., p. 42.
  2. Woodward, O.W., Notes on the Work of the Australian Tunnelling Company in France IN Proceedings of the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy,' No 37, 1920.
  3. http://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/portal/news/australian-mining-corps-david-lees, accessed 22 November 2014.
  4. Finlayson, Damien, Crumps and Camophlets, Big Sky Publishing, N.S.W., p. 42.
  5. https://www.awm.gov.au/sites/default/files/phantom-soldiers-tunellers.pdf, accessed 05 January 2014.
  6. https://www.awm.gov.au/sites/default/files/phantom-soldiers-tunellers.pdf, accessed 05 January 2014.
  7. Barrier Miner, Broken Hill, 7 January 1918.




--Cgervasoni (talk) 21:06, 19 April 2014 (EST)