The French town of Arras, like Belgium’s Ypres (Ieper), had the misfortune to lie very close to the front line for most of the First World War. Despite suffering extensive damage from bombardment, it remained a key Allied strong point because of one major advantage – it was built on chalk. Large underground caverns created beneath the town provided an ideal environment for quartering troops and supplies.
New Zealand soldiers played a significant part in the development of this vast underground military system. Foremost among them were men of the New Zealand Tunnelling Company, who were the first New Zealanders to arrive on the Western Front in 1916. By the end of the war official records show 905 men had served in the NZTC; 62 of them never returned.
A memorial to the New Zealand tunnellers who lost their lives was unveiled at Arras on 8 April 2007. An underground museum, Carrière Wellington, which incorporates parts of the tunnel system, was opened on 15 February 2008.