THE VISIT OF THE WELLINGTON TUNNELS
20 metres below the pavements of Arras, discover the Wellington Tunnels, a site immersed in memory and emotion.
After a descent in a glass-fronted lift, the audio guided and escorted visit plunges the visitor into the site’s atmosphere.
A strategic location as well as a living space, the underground quarry, named Wellington by the New Zealand sappers, preserves the memory of those thousands of soldiers quartered underground just a few metres from the front, before launching themselves onto the field of battle on 9th April 1917 at 5.30 in the morning, in a surprise attack on the German positions. Through the projection of a film, coming to the surface in the soldiers’ footsteps bring the shock of battle to life.
THE HISTORY OF THE WELLINGTON TUNNELS
In the early 1990s, archaeologists in Arras explored the former underground limestone quarries beneath the town and rediscovered the First World War history of these underground galleries. Graffiti, artefacts and eye-witness accounts revealed their unique role in a remarkable story.
The information gathered during archaeological investigations of the town offered a greater insight into the material and human efforts expended by the British forces to turn these tunnels into a real encampment capable of accommodating almost 24,000 men - equivalent to the population of the town of Arras on the eve of the Battle of Arras on 9 April 1917. These underground works were the biggest ever undertaken by the British troops in this field.
The underground quarries during the First World War.
During the second half of 1916, the New Zealand Tunnelling Company, made up of just short of 500 men, was assigned the task of developing the undergrounds quarries for preparations ahead of the Battle of Arras. Chosen for their skills, they created an underground network of some twenty kilometres, with exists just in front of the German lines. This town beneath the town saved the lives of many men during the assault of 9 April 1917. The tunnellers' mission in Arras was completed in April 1918.
The Wellington Tunnels was inaugurated on 1 March 2008. The goal of this site is to shine a light on the military strategy, the commitment of the Allies and the Battle of Arras. Constituting a cornerstone of the remembrance effort for the First World War, the amenity is intended to focus on the lives of soldiers rather than on the War itself. It is one of very few World War One living quarters still to be preserved, where the visitor lives the experience of the soldier a few day before the assault of 9 April 1917.
The name "Wellington Tunnels" refers to the city of the same name in New Zealand. To help orientate themselves, the New Zealand tunnellers gave the underground quarries the names of several major towns and cities in New Zealand. From Russell in the north to Bluff in the south, the similarity between the topographical layout of these names and their geographical position on the islands of New Zealand is striking. The underground network was a real mental map of their home country.
LA CARRIÈRE WELLINGTON :
UN LIEU DE MÉMOIRE
The Battle of Arras Memorial Wall.
The Wellington Tunnels bring to life the everyday existence of those soldiers, but it is also a place of remembrance.
A memorial wall has been erected in the garden of the underground quarry, bearing the names of the infantry and cavalry units deployed during the Battle of Arras. This commemorative space honours the sacrifice of the British soldiers and Commonwealth troops who came to fight in Artois.
Every year, at the foot of this memorial wall, the Dawn Ceremony is held at 6.30am, timed to coincide with the very hour of the launch of the Battle of Arras.
The Earth Remembers.
The work of art created by Marian Fountain, "The Earth Remembers", represents a cross-section of the Arras quarries into which the silhouette of a New Zealand tunneller has been cut. The intention of this Monument is to pay tribute to the New Zealand Tunnellers who toiled to prepare and excavate the tunnels under Arras ahead of the biggest surprise attack of the Great War. The sculpture of 3m high will in the garden of the Wellington Tunnels in front of the memorial wall.
Memorial dedicated to the men of the New Zealand Tunneling Company.
To honour New Zealand tunnellers who worked in the former Arras limestone quarries between 1916 and 1917, a mosaic of portraits marks the entrance to the Wellington Quarry, allowing visitors to look into the eyes of those miners, come from the other side of the world.