Crumps and Camouflets: Australian Tunnelling Companies on the Western Front

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Media: BOOK - hardcover, 504 pages
Author: D. Finlayson
Year: 2010
ISBN: 9780980658255
Other: b&w photos, maps, appendixes, bibliog, index
Publisher: Big Sky Publishing

Crump - 'hard hit, heavy fall, bursting shell (army slang); sound of bursting bomb or shell'
Camouflet - 'subterranean cavity formed by bomb exploding beneath the surface of the earth'

"Within the vast array of Great War literature there isscant reference to the Australian tunnelling companies. I wrote this book to redress that, by telling the story of the tunnellers who, like their brother soldiers, fought a daily duel with the enemy over the wire and the enemy within – the gnawing, paralysing fear of a sudden and violent death." Damien Finlayson

Below the shattered ground that separated the British and German infantry on the Western Front in the First World War, an unseen and largely unknown war was raging, fought by miners, ‘tunnellers’ as they were known. They knew that, at any moment, their lives could be extinguished without warning by hundreds of tonnes of collapsed earth and debris.

These men were engaged in a desperate duel with their German opponents to destroy their opposing front lines by blowing mines, carefully placed in dark, treacherous tunnels under no man’s land. At the same time, the tunnellers worked to defend their own front lines from the German miners, intent on the same deadly task. It was a war within a war in its most literal sense. The secret war culminated in the simultaneous blowing of nineteen huge mines, with a combined payload of almost 450,000 tonnes of high explosives, beneath the Messines Ridge.

Over 4,500 Australians served on the Western Front in three Australian tunnelling companies and their unique support unit, the Alphabet Company. Around 330 men did not return. The remains of most lie in carefully tended military cemeteries spread along the entire length of what was the British sector of the front, from the Belgian coast at Nieuport Bains in the north, to Bellicourt in the south. Some lie on German soil where they died in captivity. Others are lost in the dark, silent embrace of the earth and whose resting place is known unto God.

Australian tunnelling companies took part in the battles of Fromelles, Arras, Messines, Passchendaele, Cambrai, the defence of Amiens, Lys, and the famous last 100 days. Crumps and Camouflets, is the first complete history of Australia’s role in the tunnelling war of 1914-1919, of the men and units in which they served, and of life in the tomb-like tunnels of the war underground.

List of Maps, Illustrations and Diagrams
1. Mining - its place in the war
2. The rise and fall of the Australian Mining Corps: 1915 to May 1916
3. Getting down to business: June to September 1916
4. Innocence lost: October to December 1916
5. Winter worries: January to April 1917
6. Deadly thaw: May to June 1917
7. Knee-deep in hero juice: July toSeptember 1917
8. To Passchendaele and beyond: September to December 1917
9. Swept before the tide: January to April 1918
10. Backs to the wall: April to May 1918
11. Roads paved with bombs: June to September 1918
12. Push to the Armistice: September to November 1918
13. Transition to peace: November 1918 and beyond
Appendix A. Roll of Honour
Appendix B. Honours and Awards
Appendix C. Award Citations

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Crumps and Camouflets: Australian Tunnelling Companies on the Western Front


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