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GWilliamson

WW1 Pair to a "Tunneller" Officer

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Great  group  Gordon  to  a  cracking  unit . Here is  something  about  them from  my  research

 

252 TUNNELLING  COMPANY

 

Assigned  to  the Hebuterne,,  Beaumont  Hamel  sector on the  northern  Somme,  252 Company worked on the Hawthorn  Redoubt mine,  which  was famously  filmed exploding   early on  the  1st  July  1916.The  company  was responsible  for  reopening the galleries  to  the mine and  charging it  prior  to  the successful  attack  by the 51st  Highland  Division  on  13th  November  1916. 

 

Here is  a list  of  DCM  winners  from  252

 

 

G GREEN Sjt 147478

 

LONDON GAZETTE 15th  MARCH  1916

 

For  conspicuous  devotion  to  duty. He was at  work in  a mine when  it was wrecked and he himself was pinned down by  broken  ground and fallen timbers. Though badly bruised and shaken he insisted on remaining to  assist in the rescue of others as soon as he was himself released.

 

 

E BROWN 2/Cpl 147480

 

LONDON GAZETTE 15th APRIL  1916

 

For  conspicuous  devotion to  duty in  rescuing men who  had been incapacitated after the blowing in  of  a camouflet. Later he re-entered the mine to  rescue incapacitated tunnellers, and worked strenuously till  exhausted to  extricate men who  were entombed in  a destroyed gallery.

 

 

J BURNS Spr 139417

 

LONDON GAZETTE 15th  APRIL  1916

 

For  conspicuous devotion to  duty and disregard of danger. Following the explosion of an  enemy  mine, he rescued an  injured comrade, and later carried out two  others. Sapper Burns then  returned to aid in rescue work under very dangerous conditions.

 

 

W NELSON Sjt 121806 MM (Hexthorpe)

 

LONDON  GAZETTE 3rd SEPTEMBER 1919

 

He has consistently  shown  fearless devotion to  duty from  21st  August 1918, to  12th September 1918, during the advance from  Puisieux  to  Metz. He has invariably been on the ground for the purpose of searching for  traps at  the earliest  possible moment, and has materially helped in finding safe cover for the troops by  removing traps and mines. During the retreat  from  21st  -24th  March  he did excellent  work, on one occasion  going to  demolish a large dugout whilst  under machine gun fire at Grevillers on  24th  March  1918.

 

Jim

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Just  to  add, Sjt  Nelson  MM and  DCM  seems  to  have  been  a  bit of  a  nutcase  when  you  read his  citation :smile:  

What  a  soldier  he  must  have  been. God  bless him!!!

 

Your  man  would have  been  with  them on  the  Somme  and  during  the retreat. Hawthorn  ridge is actually  a  larger  crater  than  Lochnagar  at  Laboisselle  but  was  blown  twice on  1st  July  and  13th  November so  doesn`t  beat  Lochnagar  for  its  size  from  one  explosion. And  as  my  Grandfather  worked on  the  Laboisselle  sector tunnels,  I am  bound  to  say  it!!!

 

Always love  seeing tunnelling  medals. Must  post  more of  mine

 

 

Jim

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Thanks for the extra info Jim. Looks like the incident had quite an effect on Smillie. He was eventually removed from front line duty suffering from shell shock and the effects of gas and was assigned to the army school of mining. Don't know if it was all due to the incident above or if he was present at other blows. Ultimately he was medically discharged.

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I  think  the  Tunnelling  war  is  forgotten  by  most  and  yet  was  such  an  important  role  up  until  the  blowing of  the  Messines  Ridge in  June 1917  . I don`t  think  the  Tunnellers  won  the  war  but  without  them  i  think  we  would  have lost  it.

 

I  cannot imagine  working in  the  conditions  Tunnellers on  both sides  worked. If  you  haven`t  read it,  read  Alexander  Barries  "War  Underground" a  fascinating insight into  these  brave,  but  often  forgotten  heroes.

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Gordon and Jim,

 

Gentlemen, I thank you both, for showing a very interesting historical grouping and for a very interesting historical read that is posted in this thread.

 

Best regards

 

Eric-Jan

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Here is  a  film of  the  Hawthorn  Ridge  mine  being  exploded  on  1st  July  1916 by  252  Tunn Coy. Thew  mine  was  blown  10  minutes  early  and  the  Germans  captured  the  crater  before  the  British  of  29th  Division  left  the  trenches.  The  Middlesex  public  Schools  battalion  assaulted  the  crater  only  to  the  shot  down  by  the  Germans.  A very  sad  place.

 

 

Jim

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Hi Jim,

 

Just picked up "Beneath Flanders Fields-The Tunnellers' War 1914-1918". Do you know that one ? Quality is superb, lots of period photos and "then and now" type comparisons. Can't comment on the text yet, but if it lives up to the quality of the presentation it should be a great read.

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Gordon,

 

Yes  I  have  that  one its  by  Peter  Barton. There  are  a number of  books  released  now  about  Tunnelling.  The  best  one  in  my opinion is  Captain  Grieve  and  Bernard  Newman`s  period  book  just  entitled  "Tunnellers". It  was  written in  the  1920s or  30s. I  am fortunate enough  to  have  a  first  edition  with  pull  out  maps  etc  ,  but  the  book  is  available  as  a  reprint  on  Naval  and  Military. It  really is  a  superb  reference  for  students of  this  aspect  of  the  war.

 

Peter  Barton  has  produced  some  amazing TV programmes on  Tunnelling. I  remember  he  excavated  a  tunnel system  at  Mountsorrel near  Hooge  some  years  ago  and is  currently  working on  the  Laboisselle project at  the  Glory  Hole. 

 

 

Jim

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Hello all, new to the forum.

Jim I see you have a relative who fought at La Boiselle in the Glory Hole sector. I assisted for a week on the dig at La Boiselle in 2012. Spent a very rewarding few days with Peter Barton and the LBSG. I was employed excavating and removing several tonnes of chalk from the bottom of the W Adit incline. It was quite a privilege to do so. Shame that work has come to a possibly permanent end there now.

There are some great books on the tunnellers. Simon Jones book Underground Warfare 1914 to 1918 is outstanding. The biography of Sir John Norton-Griffiths "Tunnel Master and Arsonist Of the Great War" is a good read too.
My great great uncle fought at La Boiselle in 1916 in the hand to hand engagement with the 1st Battalion Sherwood Forresters.

Glenn.

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Dear Glenn, do you have more information on the excavation at La Boiselle and the results if you would like to share in a new thread? It would be most interesting to read about it. And most importantly, I wish you a warm welcome to the Forum. 

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About  15  years  ago  I stopped  at  Dominic`s Tommy  cafe at  Poizieres and  he  had a  photograph  on  the  wall  of his  cafe  with  numerous  smaller  photos of  the   tunnels  at  Laboisselle.

 

 As the  afternoon  drew on  and  the more  Leffe  he , me  and  my  2  travelling  colleagues drank  the more he began  to  open  up  and it  was  clear  he knew how  and  where  to  get into  the  tunnels.. However,  he  would not  admit  to  it  and refused  to  show  us.  Probably  a  good  job, . 3  drunken  Englishmen  supported  by  a  drunken  French man  in  WW1 tunnels  maybe  was  not  a  good  scenario :crying: 

 

We  were joined by  an  American  traveller ,  a  real  sound  guy, and  we  all  ended up  at  the Poppy  cafe  down  the road  for  an  evening  meal. The poor  American guy  was hammered and  had  to  drive onto  Paris.  We  shook  hands  and parted  and I  often  wonder if  he made it.

 

i  would have loved  to  have  gone  down  into  the  galleries at  some point,  just  to  see  what  they  were like.Peter  Barton is  a  true  historian  in my  book. His  tunnelling projects have  all  been  fascinating. The one  at  Hill  62  some  years  ago  was  amazing..

 

Jim

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Yes I know both of those establishments!

The La Boiselle system is incredible. What's even more intriguing is what hasn't been uncovered. The entire german system facing the british lines was merely blown in once taken so essentially is a potential time capsule.

When I was there we were approached by an older french chap who lived nearby. He showed us where he and his friends used to access the tunnels years ago. Undoubtedly the same spot you're referring to Jim. He told us that there were still gas curtains and equipment on the lower levels when he was a kid. A lot of what he said was confirmed when the lower level was eventually reached.

I had followed Peter Barton's writings and programmes for a long time and was a little star struck at the prospect of meeting him. All I can say is that he is a really genuine and nice bloke. Happy to give his knowledge and to listen to your questions. Nothing of the celebrity about him. That week was my favourite experience on the western front.

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Glenn,

 

Is  the  Glory  Hole  a  3  level  system? Could it have been  here where 185 Company  suffered 16 ORs killed and 2 officers on  4th  February  1916? I  know  that  the  Germans  detonated  a  camouflet  charge which  ignited a  fire ball which  tore  through  the  galleries  killing  those  working in  them.

 

Below is  the  mass  grave of  the  16 ORs at  Becourt  Becordel  and  the  2 officer  casualties ,and Major Thomas  Richardson`s  BWM I  have in my  collection

 

Jim

 

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Hi Jim. Sorry for the delay in replying. I'm not sure whether it was a three level system. While I was there the level reached from the base of the W Adit sump was the only level reached. I did see the RE plans while I was there but stupidly didn't get a photo.

I know of some of the camouflet incidents and in particular the one where the german camouflet ignited a british one as both sides were aware of each other and each preparing a charge. This one killed the two miners from Tipton and I think others but I'm not aware of the incident you're referring to. Could it have been at the Y Sap or over towards Lochnagar?

Sorry mate, not sure.

Glenn.

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Hi Glenn,

 

Thanks  for  the  reply.  I  think  it  must  have  occurred on  the  main  "Lochnagar" workings.  The incident is  mentioned in  Captain  Grieves  book " Tunnellers"  and  I  do  have  a  copy of  the  war  diary of  185 Company somewhere in  my  research  files. Its nice  as  T/Major  Richardson  signed  each  page off  so  I  do  have  a  copy of  his  signature. I  am  interested in  this particular incident  as  not only  do  I have  T/Major  Richardsons  BWM but  Sapper  Fowkes  who  was  killed in  the  action  came  from  a  village  not  far  from  an  old  address of  mine  near  Coalville in  Leicestershire.

 

I  do  find it  sad  that  the officers  were not  buried  with  their  men. Both  Officers lie in  Albert  Communal  cemetery. There is  an  account of  their  bodies  being  transported on  a  waggon from  Becourt along  the  back  road  to  Albert  for  burial.Clearly  there  was  a  social  divide  even  in  death.

 

Jim

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No worries Jim.

It's fantastic To have the medal and examples of his signature. Really nice piece that.

I think you may be more likely to find him being up at Lochnagar.

The social divide was so ingrained I think it's very difficult for us to imagine now. It's like when a lot of people think of the deprivations of the trenches and imagine that the average worker lived much as we do. I think most people would be appalled to see the living and working conditions experienced by many of the men outside the war.

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