Inauguration of Arras tunnel in Wellington [fr]
Named after the French town where New Zealand soldiers dug tunnels during the First World War, the Arras tunnel was inaugurated on September 27th 2014 in the presence of representatives of the Embassy of France, accompanied by Christophe Sirieys, Deputy Director-General of the city of Arras and Mrs Isabelle Pilarowski, from the Wellington Quarry museum in Arras.
New Zealand Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, Hon Chris Finlayson inaugurated the tunnel in the presence of members of the Royal New Zealand RSA and descendants of the New Zealand Tunnelling Company. As part of the official ceremony, which launched the Memorial Park Arras Tunnel open day, Mrs Agnès Hamilton, Deputy Head of Mission of the French Embassy, together with Christophe Serieys laid a wreath of remembrance. A key project in the New Zealand Government’s commemorations for the Centenary of the First World War, this memorial park will be a focal point of Anzac Day remembrance services in 2015.
Named Arras Tunnel in homage to the French town where the New Zealand Tunnelling Company dug networks of underground tunnels during the First World War, the tunnel is part of the National War Memorial Park. The Arras tunnel is adorned with 273 decorative poppies, which symbolise the 2721 New Zealand citizens killed during the Anzac campaign and serve as a reminder that the tunnel is a memorial space.
In November 1916, the New Zealand Tunnelling Company was sent to the French city of Arras to extend the city’s existing tunnel system. Prior to the Battle of Arras, the company dug underneath German lines where mines were laid for detonation and during the subsequent successful Allied assault, the Germans were forced to recede by more than 10 kilometres. Following the battle, the Company was entrusted with various tasks in the rebuild of the city of Arras.
To navigate their way, tunnellers had named the various routes of the network after New Zealand cities. In memory of their heroic effort, the tunnels were named Wellington quarry, now open to the public for visits. In April 2007, a memorial was also unveiled in Arras in remembrance of the 41 members of the company that died during their time there.
New Zealand Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Chris Finlayson says “I have visited Arras where reminders of the New Zealand presence and contribution are still in evidence today, not solely through the memorial to the Company’s fallen soldiers erected by the town, but also by the graffiti they left in the tunnels during construction, including messages in Cook Islands Māori”.