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Waihī miners who served in France in World War I were remembered on April 17. Photo: GORDON PREECE

French Mayor commemorates tunnellers

The Mayor of a French town where Waihī men built tunnels in World War I paid his respects at an informal ceremony at the Tunnellers Memorial on April 17.
The town of Arras, which is around two hours north of Paris, is remembered as the town where the miners from Waihī and other parts of New Zealand constructed large underground areas to house troops to prepare for a major British assault.

An underground museum in the town called Carrière Wellington, provides visitors the opportunity to view the work undertaken by New Zealand tunnellers and those attached to them more than 100 years ago.
Its Mayor, Frédéric Leturque, and his delegation visited the Tunnelers Memorial as part of a tour visiting NZ Tunnelling Company and Pioneer descendents in Rotorua, Wellington and the Cook Islands.
Waihī Heritage Vision, which is an organisation dedicated to preserving the town’s history, hosted the visit.
Secretary Krishna Buckman told The Profile it was important to maintain a relationship with Arras.
“It’s lovely to have that link with that town, it’s a very important town to us because a lot of our people, not just the miners but also our New Zealand troops who went over there to France died over there,” she said.
“That’s why we have our Fields of Remembrance crosses [at the Tunnellers Memorial] because a lot of our New Zealand men are buried over in Europe so Waihī and Arras are linked quite strongly.”
“In 2019, we had the centennial of the homecoming of the NZ Tunnelling Company and we had a visit by the Mayor of Arras because our tunnellers were the first to go over to the frontline and they were the last to return.”

Arras Mayor Frédéric Leturque places a wreath, accompanied by Arras City Councillor Arnaud Michel, right, and Arras District Council Vice President Nicolas Desfachelle, left, with No’oroa Te Hira Anguna at rear left. Photo: GORDON PREECE

The event included wreath layings by the Arras Mayor and his deputy, Hauraki Mayor Toby Adams, Waihī RSA, OceanaGold, NZ Tunnelling Company descendants and representatives of a Cook Island soldier who served in Arras.
Mayor Leturque also viewed the Cross of Crosses and Poppy Fence in Waihī, and the OceanaGold Education Centre for a light lunch before departing for Rotorua.