Remembering the tunnellers of WW1 and their dangerous work

PUBLISHED: 07:00 14 February 2015

A memorial to William Hackett VC and the Tunnelling Companies of 
the First World War.

A memorial to William Hackett VC and the Tunnelling Companies of the First World War.


Local historian Tony Simpson made a welcome return to Seaton and District Men’s Probus Club to give a thought-provoking talk about ‘Tunnellers of the Great War’.

Some of the Great War tunnellers.Some of the Great War tunnellers.

These specialist soldiers worked under no man’s land in France, digging tunnels to the enemy trenches to plant mines or listen in to communications. More than 1,500 of them died in relative obscurity as their work was largely top secret. Many of these brave men who undertook this dangerous work were recruited from the Welsh mines.

With the aid of a series of trench letters and other family archives, Tony focused his talk on his grandfather, Sapper James Morris, an experienced Welsh coal miner and tunneller with the Royal Engineers 257 Tunnelling Company.

He was killed by a sniper on August 8, 1916, as he worked above ground improving trench defences.

Tony painted a poignant picture of the impact on the family and the neighbourhood when the menfolk did not return. He spoke of the pension rights of the widows and the hardship that ensued. During Tony’s research, he discovered that his grandfather, a father of six, had been promised a promotion at the time of his death - Tony is still pursuing the Ministry of Defence to grant that promotion posthumously.

The next meeting is today (Wednesday, February 4) when club member Doug Hislop will talk about ‘Archaeology’. Meetings, which commence at 10am, are held at St Gregory’s Church Centre, Colyford Road, Seaton. The club for retired or semi-retired professional men welcomes new members - ring Keith West on 01297 624374.

● To learn more about the tunnelling companies of WW1, visit:

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