Tunnellers on the Western Front
The Underground War
Although not always obvious from above ground, or readily accessible to the general public, a series of tunnels and enormous bomb craters still survive as evidence of a secret war fought underground by men of enormous courage. Their achievements were evocatively captured by Sebastian Faulks in his book ‘Birdsong’.
Simon Jones, acclaimed author of ‘Underground Warfare 1914-18’, has conducted painstaking research into this little-known aspect of the Great War and obtained special access to many rarely visited sites resulting in a tour of great adventure with much time spent underground exploring warrens of tunnels, chambers and passageways, many of which are littered with extant evidence of their former occupiers. Whilst above ground we will enjoy the lovely countryside of Flanders, the Somme, the Argonne and the Aisne all, no doubt, looking their best in June.
With the fighting reaching stalemate in the trenches of the Western Front, both sides took the fight underground – tunnelling beneath their opponent’s trenches in a bid to achieve ‘vertical encirclement’ from below. Deep beneath each other’s lines and trenches, hardy Sappers (often former coal miners) and simple Infantrymen fought their own subterranean war, setting up listening posts or placing massive charges under enemy trenches, and fighting underground skirmishes when they met their opposite numbers in inter-connecting tunnels. This was the Army equivalent to submarine warfare, and its perpetrators were no less brave or resourceful.
Our guide, Simon Jones can be seen talking about this very topic with the BBC in these two videos:
- With acclaimed WW1 author Simon Jones
- Special access to sites not generally open to the public
- Tour full of personal accounts
- Book early to avoid disappointment
"Simon Jones crafted an excellent tour and was the soul of graciousness. The tour manager, was no less a font of useful information and equally hospitable. Both men were extremely accommodating."
Day 1 - Messines. Travel from London St Pancras by Eurostar to Lille. Drive to Ypres to discuss the tunnelling operation that resulted in the huge mine explosions at Messines in June 1917. Check-in to our hotel and attend the Menin Gate ceremony.
Day 2 – Arras & The Somme. We take a guided visit of Wellington Quarry, used by British troops prior to the Battle of Arras in April 1917. Thence to La Boiselle to visit the Lochnagar Crater, the result of the massive mine explosion on 1 July 1916. We take lunch at Auchonvillers where we visit a cellar dressing station and a preserved trench. This afternoon we visit the eerie Bouzincourt tunnel system with its extant graffiti, relics and many chambers. Continue to Chalons-en-Champagne, our base for the rest of the tour.
Day 3 - St Mihiel. This morning we visit Les Eparges for spectacular mine craters, bunkers and tunnel entrances. We break for lunch in St Mihiel and then view the amazing trenches and bunkers, tranchée des Bavarois and Bois Brulé.
Day 4 - Vauquois. We spend a full day at Vauquois taking the underground tour and visiting trenches, spectacular mine craters, bunkers and the small museum.
Day 5 – Aisne. Enjoy a specially arranged visit to the underground quarry on the Aisne to see remarkable wartime carvings. After a pause for lunch in the hilltop town of Laon we commence our drive to Lille for our return train journey to London.
Recommended Reading List
To be confirmed