The proud tradition and sacrifice of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps is commemorated today on Anzac Day, one of the most important days in Australia and New Zealand’s calendar. The 25th April was the day the ANZAC’s landed at Gallipoli and the day was first commemorated in 1916 throughout Australia, in London and on Fronts from France to the Middle East. The day of remembrance begins as it has from the earliest services with a dawn vigil or service throughout Australia and is repeated by their countrymen across the globe, most obviously at Gallipoli itself where attendance has become something of a rite of passage for so many young Aussies.
I would like to mark the day, if I may, in a small way by remembering a small group of ANZAC’s who died on the Western Front 100 years ago today.
On 7 November 1916, the 1st Australian Tunnelling Company took over the mines at Hill 60 from the 1st and 3rd Canadian tunnelling companies. The mines placed under the German lines by the 3rd Canadian Tunnelling Company had already been charged with explosives by the time the Australians arrived in the area. The first mine (Hill 60) contained 53,000 pounds (24,000 kg) of ammonal explosive and the second (The Caterpillar) contained 70,000 pounds (32,000 kg). The galleries formed part of the series of mines that was dug by the British 171st, 175th, 250th, 1st Canadian, 3rd Canadian and 1st Australian Tunnelling companies as part of the prelude to the Battle of Messines (7–14 June 1917), while the British 183rd, 2nd Canadian and 2nd Australian Tunnelling companies built deep dugouts (underground shelters) in the Second Army area.
As part of the preparations for the Battle of Messines, the 1st Australian Tunnelling Company was tasked with ensuring that the tunnels and explosives beneath Hill 60 and The Caterpillar remained intact and undiscovered by the Germans over the next seven months.Drainage and ventilation shafts had to be dug in the unfamiliar blue clay, and there was a constant danger of collapse, particularly in the part of the gallery leading to The Caterpillar, which passed under the railway line. At the same time, listening posts had to be maintained to detect enemy action. These posts were only a few metres underground and therefore susceptible to collapse during bombardments. The German mining units were constantly trying to find British tunnels and numerous counter tunnels had to be dug towards the German excavations so that they could be mined with small charges and destroyed. In April 1917, German infantry conducted a raid into the British lines in an attempt to find the entrances to the British mine galleries but failed to do so. On the 25th April 1917, a detonator exploded in the Australian underground HQ, killing ten men. The Official Australian History states that at Hill 60, "underground warfare reached a tension which was not surpassed anywhere else on the British front". It is estimated that altogether approximately thirty Australian tunnellers were killed at Hill 60. The mines at Messines were eventually detonated on 7 June 1917, creating 19 large craters.
There is incidentally, a very good movie called 'Beneath Hill 60,' which tells the story of the men of the 1st Australian Tunnelling company.
In remembering these ordinary ANZACS’s who died 100 years ago today doing an extraordinary job, we remember them all,