NEW ZEALANDERS

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deep underground in Arras

At the time of the Great War, New Zealand, still a British colony, had a population of just over a million inhabitants. As a consequence, it was difficult for the British to enlist a large number of men for the front. It was decided, therefore, only to make use of those with specific professional expertise. Tunnellers fell into this category. The country’s coal and silver mines had turned a good number of inhabitants into outstanding sappers; because of this, five hundred New Zealanders found themselves in Arras in 1917 to dig underground tunnels that would save the lives of thousands of men.

November 1916, the military headquarters of the French army: General Nivelle is preparing the Chemin des Dames offensive. The operation is planned for the spring of 1917 and a diversionary plan is developed. A few days before the general assault, British troops in Artois would need to attack the German lines. The plan was a controversial one but ended up being adopted. However, the situation in Arras was disastrous: the town had withstood daily bombardment since October 1914, was almost completely destroyed and only a thousand or two inhabitants, managing to survive amid the ruins, remained. (download the pdf to read more)

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