On 7 June 1917, 19 massive mines shattered the Messines ridge near Ypres. Ten thousand German soldiers died and the largest man-made explosion in history up until that time smashed open the German frontline. Two of these mines, at Hill 60 and the Caterpillar, were fired by men of the 1st Australian Tunnelling Company.
We all remember images from WWI of massive artillery barrages and soldiers crossing shattered landscapes towards certain slaughter. Beneath these killing fields of the Western Front, another war was taking place, a deadly game 30 metres down, played between thousands of troops. These were not infantrymen- these were miners. Their mutual goal was to tunnel beneath 'no man's land', under the opposing lines and destroy the German enemy from below. Unfortunately, the Germans had the same idea and were digging in from the other side. Over 4585 Australian miners took part in this secret subterranean war, fighting under stress and conditions that terrified even the most hardened infantryman on the surface. Through exhaustive research, Will Davies has uncovered first-hand accounts of life for the tunnellers and soldiers at the front. In sharing their hopes, dreams, victories and disappointments he tells the broad story of day after day in the mud at the front line and uncovers the glorious spirit of these men who fought and died for their countries.
Will Davies is a historian, writer and filmmaker. He edited Somme Mud: The War Experiences of an Australian Infantryman in France 1916-1919, and is the author of In the Footsteps of Private Lynch.
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