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Diggers in the tunnels of Quinn’s Post

The underground war at Gallipoli was fought from May 1915 right up until the evacuation in December that year. Because the two opposing sides were often only a few yards apart, parties of engineers from Australia and New Zealand could dig through the soil to lay explosives underneath enemy trenches. At the same time, Turkish tunnellers were doing exactly the same thing, sometimes with only a few metres of earth between them.

The men who organised the tunnelling were engineers (sometimes also called sappers).  They were responsible for all the infrastructure needed to wage a war: from tunnels and trenches to buildings, roads and jetties. In this excerpt from a 1959 radio documentary, Captain Ernest Harston, who was adjutant of the Wellington Infantry Regiment, and Jim Meek, a corporal with the New Zealand Engineers at Quinn’s Post, recall the tunnels, the former miners who worked in them, and the many tasks the engineers had to carry out.

Year:1915 (Recorded 1959)

Location:Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey

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Diggers in the tunnels of Quinn’s Post

The underground war at Gallipoli was fought from May 1915 right up until the evacuation in December that year. Because the two opposing sides were often only a few yards apart, parties of engineers from Australia and New Zealand could dig through the soil to lay explosives underneath enemy trenches. At the same time, Turkish tunnellers were doing exactly the same thing, sometimes with only a few metres of earth between them.

The men who organised the tunnelling were engineers (sometimes also called sappers).  They were responsible for all the infrastructure needed to wage a war: from tunnels and trenches to buildings, roads and jetties. In this excerpt from a 1959 radio documentary, Captain Ernest Harston, who was adjutant of the Wellington Infantry Regiment, and Jim Meek, a corporal with the New Zealand Engineers at Quinn’s Post, recall the tunnels, the former miners who worked in them, and the many tasks the engineers had to carry out.


Year: 1915 (Recorded 1959)

Length: 04:26

Credits: Produced by: Jim Henderson

Source: Radio New Zealand Collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Catalogue Reference: 150043 Gallipoli : Memories of ANZAC


People: Ernest Sirdefield Harston, James Gray Meek

Location: Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey


Image Title: J00391

Image Source: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/J00391/


Jim Meek recalls that many of the men who worked in the tunnels were former gold miners who already had plenty of experience working underground and with explosives.  

The value of men with mining skills was soon recognised and back in New Zealand the first official Tunnelling Company was formed in September 1915, with recruits coming from gold-mining regions such the Coromandel Peninsula. Coal miners were not called on as their job was considered vital to the war effort and they were needed at home.

As well as trying to tunnel beneath enemy lines, the men also dug deep trenches known as saps, and underground spaces used for storage and living quarters. The work was hard, dirty and dangerous. At Quinn’s Post an elaborate network of underground earthworks was established, shown in this map drawn by an Australian engineer. 

These tunnellers later dig extensive tunnels in the battlefields of northern France, which still exist today in locations such as beneath the the town of Arras.