Tunnellers Memorial Unveiling Ceremony – 19 June 2010
A quick report on the terrific day for the unveiling of the Tunnellers Memorial at Givenchy-Lez-La Bassée. Well, where to start?! Firsty, many thanks to all who attended including friends and family plus representatives from the Historial at Peronne, Durand Group and Brian Owen from the Royal Welsh Fusiliers Museum plus many tunneller’s relatives. The weather certainly did its best to dampen the day but everyone battled on until the sun finally came out.
The Territorial band of the Royal Engineers played and marched for twenty minutes along the streets of Givenchy with locals and schoolchildren joining and following. They were then led by an honour guard from the Corps to the site selected for the speeches. Other attendees included Hackett Troop from the Royal School of Military Engineering as well as General David Bill (late RE) represented the British Army and the defence attaches of Canada and New Zealand. Veterans’ organisations from France paraded their standards along with those of the Ypres, Somme and Pas de Calais Branches of the Royal British Legion. The great nephew of Sapper William Hackett attended along with three nephews of Thomas Collins – John Abraham, John Carroll and Terry Carroll. I was especially proud to see them there after my work in tracking them down. By the time we all formed up we estimated the total attendance to be 300 – 400 people.
Speeches were made by Monsieur Jacques Herbaut, Maire de Givenchy (with translation into English provided by Mme. Tracy Bernard), General David Bill, Peter Barton and finally a reading of John French’s diary entries for the period by me. It was a very emotional moment reading these words with relatives of William Hackett and Thomas Collins standing just a few yards away.
We then all moved down to the site of the Shaftsbury Shaft where Reverend Pat Aldred conducted a blessing for Sapper William Hackett VC and Private Thomas Collins which was followed by the Last Post, two minute’s silence and the Reveille. The entire party then moved to the Memorial for the unveiling. Firstly the Exhortation was delivered by WO1 Philip Moffitt RE and then the Tunnellers Memorial was unveiled by Monsieur Jacques Herbaut, Maire de Givenchy, and Monsieur René Cuvelier, Premier Adjoint au Maire. Wreaths and tributes were laid by officials. This was followed by the playing of the Marseillaise followed by the National Anthems of Great Britain, New Zealand, Canada and Australia (all countries who had specialist Tunnelling Companies). Finally there were wreaths and tributes laid by guests.
There then followed a Vin ‘d’honneur in Givenchy’s Salle de Fete which included canapés and a couple of barrels of specially brewed “William Hackett Ale” (unfortunately run out by the time I made it to the hall).
A full write up and pictures plus video interviews with those involved will be added to the Tunnellers Memorial website in due course. In the interim, please take a look at the BBC Wales news piece by Carwyn Jones who had travelled out with the three Welsh nephews of Thomas Collins. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/10371047.stm
I think it is a very fitting memorial to that special breed of men who served and fought underground with such aplomb. The information panel designed so skilfully by OMB Direct is also a great addition to the memorial site.
I can only echo countless other comments received on that day and thank Peter Barton and Maggie Lindsay Roxburgh for their vision, commitment and perseverance in erecting this long neglected memorial to the tunnellers.