Title: Crumps and Camouflets – Australian Tunnelling Companies on the Western Front
Author: Finlayson, Damien
Edition: 1st Edition
Publication Date: 2010
Cover: Hard Cover with Dust Jacket – 480 pages
Comments: The comprehensive history of the Australian Tunnelling Companies on the Western Front.
‘hard hit, heavy fall, bursting shell (army slang);
sound of bursting bomb or shell’
‘subterranean cavity formed by bomb exploding beneath the surface of the earth’
“Within the vast array of Great War literature there is scant reference to the Australian tunnelling companies. I wrote this book to redress that, by telling the story of the tunnellers who, like their brother soldiers, fought a daily duel with the enemy over the wire and the enemy within – the gnawing, paralysing fear of a sudden and violent death.”
Below the shattered ground that separated the British and German infantry on the Western Front in the First World War, an unseen and largely unknown war was raging, fought by miners, ‘tunnellers’ as they were known. They knew that, at any moment, their lives could be extinguished without warning by hundreds of tonnes of collapsed earth and debris.
These men were engaged in a desperate duel with their German opponents to destroy their opposing front lines by blowing mines, carefully placed in dark, treacherous tunnels under no man’s land. At the same time, the tunnellers worked to defend their own front lines from the German miners, intent on the same deadly task. It was a war within a war in its most literal sense. The secret war culminated in the simultaneous blowing of nineteen huge mines, with a combined payload of almost 450,000 tonnes of high explosives, beneath the Messines Ridge.
Over 4,500 Australians served on the Western Front in three Australian tunnelling companies and their unique support unit, the Alphabet Company. Around 330 men did not return. The remains of most lie in carefully tended military cemeteries spread along the entire length of what was the British sector of the front, from the Belgian coast at Nieuport Bains in the north, to Bellicourt in the south. Some lie on German soil where they died in captivity. Others are lost in the dark, silent embrace of the earth and whose resting place is known unto God.
Australian tunnelling companies took part in the battles of Fromelles, Arras, Messines, Passchendaele, Cambrai, the defence of Amiens, Lys, and the famous last 100 days. Crumps and Camouflets, is the first complete history of Australia’s role in the tunnelling war of 1914-1919, of the men and units in which they served, and of life in the tomblike tunnels of the war underground.