Mapping the Tunnelling Activity, La Bassee

Quite a while since I added anything to the blog, but I have been working in a number of areas and have received help and information from a number of people to do it.

At the moment I have not been able to find out any more about Edward’s life in Cornwall or South Africa or on his return to England and Cornwall, prior to enlistment. What I have been concentrating on is the life he would have led during his time on active service in France in 1915-16. Whilst I doubt whether there is any reference to his service apart from his army file in regimental records, what I can do is to try and detail a specific period in the line, by researching how a Tunnelling Company worked and by looking at the two companies in which he served. As a tunneller he would have a key role in the aggressive development of their operations, so at least if I cannot find activities specific to him, I can detail the company operations over even a brief period of time and by association see what activities and what dangers he would have been involved in, in this front line work.

I’ve pieced together information from a number of sources: initially the audio recordings on Jeremy Banning’s website

of Sapper Fred Brown a member of 251 TC as he describes his daily life moving from their billet in Bethune to the front line. From this information on a Tunnelling Companies structure from Simon Jones

as well as viewing his very informative Paper about the men of 179 TC at the ‘The Great War Underground:’ a joint WFA/NAM ConferenceAt the National Army Museum in 2013

He in turn put me in touch with Ken Jones whose grandfather was also a member of 251 TC. Ken Johns is writing a book about 251TC and has even been able to tell me the name of the miner who probably travelled to London with my grandfather to enlist in August 1915.

I’ve also been researching the original copies of both 170 and 251 TC War Diaries at the National Archive in London. Key elements of my plan to detail the activities of the tunnelling companies work have been to try to get copies of the relevant trench maps for the Bethune/ La Bassee area of the front line and copies of the Weekly Mining Reports, which detail which galleries were being worked, as well as details of British and German mine explosions. For this my initial awareness of the Weekly Mine Reports came from an example of the Tunnellers Memorial Website

and later in the very informative ‘Military Mining 1914-19’ The Work of the Royal Engineers in the European War, 1914-19, The Naval and Military Press Ltd.

Information about other websites came through reading topics on The Great War Forum

which referenced McMaster University

and the National Library of Scotland’s
collection of maps. From both, I was able to download copies of the appropriate maps at 1:10,000 scale. From the War Diaries I got map references and trench names and from the Weekly Mine Reports galleries. Recently I have been working to try to coordinate this information and most recently relate it to ariel photographs of this area of the front line (in the right time period) and overlay that on the google map of the area today. This may take a little while, whilst I use the appropriate software and as necessary, ensure I have the necessary copyright permissions.


About parsons656

Design lecturer working in London. Currently focusing research into my grandfather's (father's family)short life as a miner, tunneller in the first world war.
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