28 September 2014

Arras Tunnel opening ceremony

Yesterday morning a ceremony at the War Memorial and a speech by Hon Chris Finlayson opened the new tunnel from the Basin Reserve to Taranaki Street and commemorated the historic relationship between New Zealand and the French town of Arras, which the new tunnel is named after. New Zealand engineers lived and worked in and under Arras during World War 1, tunnelling out huge secret barracks for an enormous allied force to be used in the offensive from April to May 1917 involving 14 assault divisions and nine reserve divisions. Many of the sappers from the New Zealand Tunnelling Company were from the Hauraki goldfields, and the NZTA brochure for the opening ceremony noted their often fiery disposition:

While mustering at Avondale Racecourse in Auckland for training prior to embarkation, they quickly earned the nickname of "The Red Feds" because of the high number of union activists among their ranks. It was reported that 'such men did not take kindly to drill and were later famed throughout the Expeditionary Force as being the toughest and roughest company'.

Walking through the tunnel before and after the official speech, visitors were asked to carry laminated certificates bearing the details of sappers who lost their life as a result of the war. The one I carried was 4/1340 Sapper Sylvester Dargan, a married gold-miner of Waihi who was born in South Australia on 9 October 1877, and had formerly served in the South Australian Infantry Regiment. Dargan shipped out with the initial company deployment. Gassed on 13 November 1917, Dargan was hospitalised, discharged from the army and shipped back to New Zealand as an invalid, where he was treated at the Pukeroa Sanatorium in Hawkes Bay. He died of his wounds on 13 July 1920, leaving behind his wife and four children.


The Carillon
Mayor of Wellington, Celia Wade-Brown & Army guard
In honour of the French contingent
The Arras Tunnel opens for traffic on Monday
Walk-through, admiring the commemorative poppies
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