KIT WILSON, external affairs coordinator for Newmont, explains a new memorial dedicated to the tunnellers of WW1 who were miners from Waihi.
Go to almost any small town in this country and you can find a war memorial, and most likely a war memorial hall too. They are often in the main street. The historic mining town of Waihi is different. It has a ‘memorial’ hall but, unusually, the one war memorial to the town’s war dead is on the outskirts of the town at the cemetery and is without any names. In Waihi, like the Tunnellers themselves, the story of men who served in a secret underground war, was buried.
The ‘Miners in Khaki’ left for the war after the initial rush of patriotic enlistments, and the unit did not return until April 24 1919, by which time the country was ready to move on. Their story was largely forgotten. In Waihi and in mining communities throughout New Zealand where others also enlisted these men have been largely unrecognised.
All this is about to change.Waihi Heritage Vision has plans to build a 7.5 metre high memorial to the New Zealand Engineers Tunnelling Company at Gilmour Reserve in Waihi.
Members of Waihi Heritage Vision who have been working on recognition for the specialised group of miner soldiers believe Waihi is a suitable place to remember them. Around 90 men left local mines as Tunnelling Company enlistments. Sixteen have been identified as having been buried in the local cemetery, including at least two who died as a result of war injuries.
Planning for the memorial began over two years ago. Nick Brumder, a recent Waihi arrival from Texas is a sculptor and ironmonger whose work is well known in the United States. He counts Don Henley of soft rock band The Eagles among his many clients.
Nick’s design is unlike anything seen previously in New Zealand. The 7.5 metre tall sculpture takes its cues from the five sided columnar basalt of the region and the ‘T’ insignia of overseas tunnelling units. This is topped by a globe which echoes the Tunnellers’ motto Inga Wahi Katoa – Everywhere, and a final shape that has been interpreted by many as a pair of hands open in supplication.
Fundraising for the memorial project has begun in earnest. The New Zealand Lotteries Commission World War One Commemoration Fund has provided the bulk of the money required, but there are many other groups which have contributed through money, in kind assistance and sponsorship. New Zealand Veteran’s Affairs, the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ), First Sovereign Trust and Newmont Waihi Gold have all assisted the project to date.
Just recently industrial supply company BGH Group has come on board the project with a generous offer of sponsorship. Cameron Talbut, a director of the group of companies says that for him the decision to provide assistance was easy.
“As a locally owned and operated company, we have had a productive 25-year relationship with the mining and tunnelling industries in New Zealand.
“In addition my grandmother’s family came from a coal mining background in Scotland and we also have links to the Australian and New Zealand Tunnelling Companies of World War One. The timing was right and for me, both personally and professionally, this is a good project for us to be become involved in.”
The memorial will be sited at Gilmour Reserve adjacent to the Miners’ Memorial Bench (pictured) that Waihi Heritage Vision commissioned in 2012. This bench, along with 29 kowhai trees planted in memory of the Pike River 29, and the Tunnellers Memorial will form part of the public reserve that has been called the Miners’ Reflective Area. Waihi Heritage Vision hopes this part of the park will become a place of quiet contemplation and reflection, while the open space around it will lend itself to a variety of uses.
On April 22 of this year a Mayoral Delegation from Arras, France will arrive in Waihi, bringing with them a rock from where the Tunnellers worked. This will be attached to a much larger rock sourced from Waihi’s Martha open pit.
Shortly after this, construction of the memorial will commence. It is planned that the structure will be complete by November, in time for the surrounding area to be contoured and ready for the opening ceremony in March 2016.
When completed, the area will also feature a memorial wall and a life-size statue of a Tunneller. Lest we Forget.