“The nearby city of Auckland had never been shaken like it had when these men came to town,” went a newspaper report of the arrival of the newly formed, New Zealand Engineers Tunnelling Company.
On 11 October, 1915, the company assembled at the Avondale Racecourse which had been turned into a military training camp to support the Great War effort.
Gold miners, bushmen, public works staff, farmers, clerks, surveyors and engineers answered the imperial call for a tunnelling company from New Zealand to be formed to go to the Western Front.
March marks the 100th anniversary of the tunnellers arrival in France, the first New Zealand contingent to reach that theatre of conflict.
With picks and shovels they engaged in a secret war below ground.
This underground warfare was an extreme tactical game, trying to foresee the opponent’s movements. The New Zealanders tunnelled at three times the rate of the German crews and only once did the enemy detonate a mine before the company could counter-mine.
The engineers gave locations in the tunnel system built beneath the French town of Arras place names from back home with Bluff at one end and Russell at the other.
Rock from these New Zealand locations has been used to create a memorial as a fitting tribute to the service of the tunnellers and was unveiled at Waihi in January.
The Avondale Racecourse and Auckland Town Hall are both on Auckland Council's First World War heritage trail which commemorates sites from Wellsford to Waiuku through interpretive signage.