In the First World War trenches cleaved Europe from the North Sea to Switzerland. While the battlefield above ground was static, a secret subterranean war raged underground.
The British Army began to form specialist army units of trained tunnellers in 1915, initially recruiting men from poor coal mining communities in Britain. Their job was to create a labyrinth of long underground tunnels that extended under enemy lines and could be packed with explosives, and to dig ‘camouflets’, smaller mines used to collapse enemy tunnels. They were also tasked with building extensive networks of tunnels behind Allied lines, allowing for undetected movement of men and supplies.
Faced with growing demand for skilled miners, the British government appealed to Canada to raise tunnelling units, or ‘companies’, in September 1915. The first was mobilised in Pembroke, Ontario and recruited men from mining centres in Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. Almost 300 men left Saint John on Jan. 1, 1916. The second, comprised of men from Alberta and British Columbia, left Halifax three weeks later. The third was formed of Canadian miners who had joined the armed forces and were already fighting in Europe. Continue Reading →