Sap­pers’ sac­ri­fice

South Waikato News - - Front Page - FRANCES FER­GU­SON

An­zac Day has al­ways held a spe­cial place for the District Pres­i­dent of the RSA and his wife but a a re­cent visit to Ar­ras in France re­ally brought it back home.

Shirley and Clive Collingwood traced the steps that Kiwi Sap­pers took whilst build­ing tun­nels un­der­ground to get be­hind en­emy lines in WWI – a jour­ney that would sit heav­ily on their hearts for some time.

Collingwood was re­ferred to as a Sap­per when he served in the Royal New Zealand En­gi­neer Core as a full cor­po­ral.

He said see­ing New Zealand place names painted on the walls by the kiwi tun­nel­ers was a mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

They worked in try­ing con­di­tions for long hours.

‘‘They dug a tun­nel un­der­ground prob­a­bly 500 me­tres in eight days and that got them to the other side of the Ger­man lines.’’

Collingwood at­tended a me­mo­rial ded­i­cated to the tun­nel­ers in Waihi in Jan­uary be­fore go­ing over to visit the Ar­ras Tun­nels.

‘‘A lot of the tun­neler’s from the New Zealand Tun­nelling Com­pany came from the gold mines in Waihi,’’ he said.

New Zealand sol­diers played a sig­nif­i­cant part in the de­vel­op­ment of this mil­i­tary sys­tem.

By the end of the war, of­fi­cial records show 937men had served in the New Zealand Tun­nelling Com­pany. At least 62 of them never re­turned.

‘‘It’s still ex­actly like it was. There’s still the old pow­er­lines through it, all the old bot­tles and rub­bish still there,’’ he said of vis­it­ing the tun­nels.

The cou­ple con­tin­ued their jour­ney to visit Hill 60 in the south of Ypres in Bel­gium.

It was a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence for Collingwood who said you could see 40 kilo­me­tres out to sea with a 360 de­gree view.

‘‘To de­scribe it you go to the top of the Kaimais and you can see for­ever. Over there you’ve got a hill sixty me­tres above sea level.

‘‘The Ger­mans had con­trol over every­where be­cause they could see you move.’’

Ev­ery night at 8pm the peo­ple gather in Ypres at the Menin Gate to re­cite The Olde of Re­mem­brance.

The RSA Waikato District Pres­i­dent car­ried pop­pies with him to mark the sites of kiwi sol­diers who died in Ar­ras, France and Ypres in Bel­gium.

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