Remembering Tunnellers In WWI

To see Howard’s first article, scroll down to February 28)

Memorial to the Australians

By Howard Chamberlain

1st Australian Tunnelling Company Memorial Hill 60

Two memorials close together are those of the 14th Light Division on the right of this picture and the 1st Australian Tunnelling Memorial on the left.

They are often visited as it is no great distance from Britain.

With so many memorials close together nearly all are viewed during the same visit.

It is easy to pick the rising sun on the 1st Australian Tunnelling Company memorial on the left as Australian and this was dedicated in 1923.

Damage in World War II

During the fighting in 1940, the area round Hill 60 was again contested by 17th Brigade of the 5th Division with part of 2nd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers, 2nd Inniskillings and 6th Seaforth’s holding back three German divisions.

These British troops held the “Dunkirk corridor” open for another day and allowed more of the British Army to reach Dunkirk.

The original QVR memorial was badly damaged by German PAK antitank fire and had to be re-built after WW2.

The Australian memorial still bears the scars of this fighting with bullet holes in the bronze plaque telling the story.

Creating the Caterpillar Crater    

Caterpillar Crater Hill 60

Tunnelling operations were started in this area by 175 Tunnelling Coy of the Royal Engineers in August 1915.

The 3rd Canadian Company took over in Apr 1916 and continued these workings.

They in turn passed the tunnels and galleries over to the 1st Australian Tunnelling Coy (The film Under Hill 60 was based in their work) and maintained the mines beneath Hill 60 and the Caterpillar over the winter until June 1917 when they were fired.

This is the Caterpillar Crater in October 2017.

Leaving things as they were

On the road and footpaths in this area are many markers inserted into the pavement and on steel markers in the boardwalks showing the front lines of both sides.

Howard Woolley

The markers are only very short distance apart and it is very easy to appreciate the closeness of the opposing side and why so many men died here.

Much of this area has been retained as it was after the Great War.

Quite apart from the Military memorials in this area there are the private ones erected by the local people and family members of servicemen who died in both the Great War and in World War II. This picture is sourced from the Internet.  It is understood that at least one veteran of World War I, Mr P. G. Arnold from Birmingham, had asked his widow to scatter his ashes here after his death in 1931 so he could be with those with whom he fought and died.


The much contested Hill 60

Right beside the footpath adjacent to the Australian Tunnelling Memorial is this dedication stone on which is graven the following summary.

Hill 60, the scene of bitter fighting, was held by German troops from the 16th December 1914 to the 17th April 1915, when it was captured (after the explosion of five mines) by the British 5th Division. on the following 5th May it was recaptured by the German XV Corps.

Small private memorials

It remained in German hands until the battle of Messines (7th June 1917) when, after many months of underground fighting, two mines were exploded here; and at the end of April 1918, after the battles of the Lys, it passed into German hands again.

It was finally retaken by British troops under the command of H. M. King of the Belgians on the 28th September 1918.

 In the broken tunnels beneath this enclosure many British and German dead were buried, and the hill is therefore preserved, so far as nature will permit, in the state in which it was left after the Great War.




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