Battle Beneath The Trenches : The Cornish Miners of the 251st Tunnelling Company
Undermining the positions of the enemy is one of the most ancient activities. For almost 3000 years even before 1914, it was a popular siege-breaking technique. During the Great War arguably the greatest siege the world had ever seen, it presented a conflict environment that perfectly favoured the skills of the military miner.
During 1915, the Western Front was established as a static line that grew into a huge network of defence-in-depth earthworks. Siege conditions demanded siege tactics and as the ground was everywhere mineable, the Western Front was a prime candidate for underground warfare. Royal Engineer tunnelling companies were specialist units of the Corps of Royal Engineers within the British Army, formed to dig attacking tunnels under enemy lines during the First World War.
The Cornish Miners were one of these specialist units recruited from the tin mines of Cornwall. In February 1915, eight Tunnelling Companies were created and operational in Flanders from March 1915. By mid-1916, the British Army had around 25,000 trained tunnellers, mostly volunteers taken from mining communities.
Robert K Johns, a retired businessman was born in Cornwall and comes from a long line of underground tin miners. Battle Beneath the Trenches is a personal book inspired, as the author explains in chapter one, by the silver cigarette case engraved with the Royal Engineers crest found amongst his grandfather's bits and pieces.
The first part of the book introduces the reader to John Albert James Johns, the author's grandfather, Cornwall and tin mining. The bulk of the book, however, covers the Cornish miners of 251 Tunnelling Company RE during the First World War. The author has a background working with the military on research projects that reflects in the attention to detail. There are instances when the text is a little repetitive but that does not detract from the interest of the book.
The brown cover of the book with the photos on the front and back give a good indication of the contents. This book should appeal to a varied readership. Not only those interested in family and local Cornish history but also mining techniques and living conditions in the trenches. The book would also suit any reader with a general interest in the First World War.
The book is easy to read and includes maps with reference to them in the text for the convenience of the reader. There is an index, bibliography and comprehensive appendices with names of officers, men and honours won.
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