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Pick and Shovel Men

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Hard of hand, muscle and face New Zealand’s tunnellers, our pick and shovel men, left their mark on the World War One landscape. Pick and Shovel Men, Tauranga to the Trenches, explored the tunnels beneath Arras highlighting the hardships and achievements of these brave men, while revealing the graffiti which tells their story.

WWI was the first time in British military history that tunnelling companies were formed. This was due to the deadly development of trench warfare. In early September 1915 the British Government put out the call to their colonies to recruit men who could dig. Enlistment to raise a New Zealand Tunnelling Company of approximately 300-400 men commenced on 17 September 1915. By 11 October nearly 450 men gathered in Avondale, near Auckland, for basic training. Seven men from Tauranga enlisted in the Tunnelling Company. Their occupations were two miners, two surveyors, a labourer, a blacksmith and a bridge builder.

Considered experts in their field, these recruits were given no technical training. Instead they received lectures on topics that included saluting, dress, military law and personal hygiene. On 18 December 1915 the main body of the Tunnelling Company, comprising 446 men, sailed from Auckland on the Ruapehu. Over the next three years more than 1,200 men would serve with the Company. Tunnelling recruits were strong and fit, largely single, independent and over the age of 30. Almost 80 per cent came from the North Island and were gold miners, public works labourers, bushmen, farmers, surveyors and engineers. Coal miners were considered essential to the war effort and were not allowed to enlist.