More than 80 Waihi miners used their tunnelling expertise to play a crucial role in World War I nearly 100 years ago.
Today hundreds of descendants of the tunnellers gathered in Waihi to remember and explore where their ancestors used to work.
The New Zealand miners were involved in a deadly game of cat and mouse played underneath the western front, using their expertise to dig under, then blow up, the German trench system.
“The enemy tried to come through and blast them out of the tunnel,” descendant Buzz Roycroft said.
“They were dropping shells on top of the ground up above and it was blowing up the guys down below – very dangerous work.”
Mr Roycroft’s father was a miner in Waihi before being recruited in 1916.
“You couldn’t get nothing out of my father and from what I remember you couldn’t really get much out of any of those guys,” Mr Roycroft said.
“He would always joke rather than getting serious.
Today, Buzz and other descendants were taken into the mine where their relatives learned their trade.
The Waihi tunnellers served overseas for about two years and were among the last Kiwis to come home after the war ended.
“There were no big parades, they came back and they went back to work, largely unnoticed,” Kit Wilson from Waihi Heritage Vision said.
No memorial site was ever created for the tunnellers but 100 years on that’s about to change…. with a seven metre sculpture to be installed in the next few years.”
Not a story widely known by the present generations of New Zealanders, but I recall a mention many years ago.