Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Henley Probus Club

THE club held its 448th meeting at Badgemore Park Golf Club on October 9.

After the normal business had been completed, the guest speaker Tim Tawney gave a talk, with slides, entitled “The war underground 1914-1918”.

The talk was about the world’s first real trench warfare, which took place in northern France more than 100 years ago.

The underground war took place on the Western Front, which was the main theatre of war during the conflict.

It stretched from Flanders through the department of the Somme to Verdun and covered a distance of about 250 miles.

Although tunnelling/mining had been around since time immemorial, the physical and geological challenges presented to the armed forces and professional tunnellers were very varied.

Flanders provided the most appalling conditions in the tunnels, which were predominantly of clay but with much water.

The Somme tunnels were mostly of chalk, which were relatively easy to mine but treacherous to live in due to collapsing roofs.

The Verdun tunnels were primarily of gaize rock (a type of sandstone), which provided for relatively easy tunnelling and were “safe” to live in.

Tim took the meeting through the various tunnelling techniques and particularly the tools that were used in the construction of the various types of tunnels/mines.

The tunnels were quite often 300ft deep and, accordingly, there was a perennial water problem, which required continuous pumping. There were also gas problems. Tim provided details of various tunnels and battles:

• Tunnels in the Arras area used the long-standing medieval tunnels, which housed 25,000 soldiers during the battle of Arras.

Today there are 25 miles of tunnels underneath the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.

• The Battle of Messines in the Ypres area, conducted by the British Second Army in June 1917, was associated with the single biggest mining offensive, which was conducted in appalling conditions.

• Hill 60 in the Ypres Salient was another huge tunnelling exercise, which involved setting off 33,000 tons of explosive in a 10-minute period, causing casualties estimated at between 30,000 and 50,000 men.

At the close of the talk, Tim was thanked by the members for his presentation, which left many members pondering how war was conducted 100 years ago.

Henley Probus Club meets at Badgemore Park Golf Club on the second Tuesday (morning) of each month. If you are interested in coming along, please call Roger Griffiths on (01491) 575137.

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