Wellington Quarry: The WW1 Tunnels of Arras

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The museum is founded to the memory of thousands of men of the British Army and Dominion Forces who lived under the city during the Great War of 1914-1918. In particular work of the tunnelers of the New Zealand Division is commemorated. The New Zealand Tunneling Company was based in this part of the underground tunnel system during the build-up to the Allied offensive, the Battle of Arras 1917, which was launched in the early hours of 9th April 1917.

From the arrival of the British in the Arras sector in March 1916 New Zealand Tunneling Companies dug a network of tunnels in the ground underneath the Ronville and Saint-Saveur districts of Arras. They dug new tunnels and rooms and joined them up with the existing ancient tunnels and quarries or pits already under the city, quarried out hundreds of years before. The tunnels were fitted with running water and electricity supplies. Accommodation in the underground city was available for the soldiers to live and sleep in, and there was a large hospital for treating the wounded in a labyrinth of rooms with enough space to fit 700 beds and operating theatres.

Displays in the entrance foyer at the Wellington Quarry.
The name for this particular quarry and tunnel system came about because names were needed to help the people underground find where they were. Signposted names and numbers were given to the tunnels and rooms underground. The New Zealanders based in this particular system named the place “Wellington“, after the capital city of New Zealand.

A message written by Lieutenant-General J A L Haldane, commanding the VI Corps during the Battle of Arras (9th - 4th May 1917), is inscribed on the wall at the entrance to the museum. It reads:

“I wish to bring to the Army Commander's notice the excellent work done by the New Zealand Engineers Tunneling Company, during the past twelve months. First under Major Duigan and now under Captain Vickerman, the work of the Company has been excellent. Not only have the men worked extremely hard and well, but the excellent relations that have been maintained with the various divisions shows a first class organization.

I attach a copy of a report I have received from G.O.C. 3rd Division, which expresses the opinion held by the divisions in the line of the New Zealand Tunneling Company.”

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