Ministers’ release: 1 September 2014
Prime Minister John Key, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee and Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Christopher Finlayson today laid the last of 273 symbolic decorative poppies on the wall of the newly named Arras Tunnel, which runs underneath the National War Memorial Park site.
The Prime Minister speaking at today's naming ceremony.
The poppy tiles symbolise the 2721 New Zealand fatalities in the Anzac campaign.
Mr Finlayson announced the tunnel will be named Arras Tunnel after the French town where the New Zealand Tunnelling Company dug huge networks of underground tunnels during the First World War.
Before the final poppies were secured, the signatures of the Prime Minister and Ministers were added to those of the tunnel construction workers and two students representing neighbouring Mount Cook School on the back of the poppies.
Back of the poppy signed by the Prime Minister.
“I have visited Arras where reminders of the New Zealand presence and contribution are still in evidence today, not solely through the memorial to the Company’s fallen soldiers erected by the town, but also by the graffiti they left in the tunnels during construction, including messages in Cook Islands Māori,” Mr Finlayson says.
“The naming of Arras Tunnel is a fitting acknowledgement of this connection.”
In November 1916, the New Zealand Tunnelling Company was assigned to Arras, where they extended the existing tunnel systems and created new tunnels capable of housing nearly 20,000 men.
In April 1917, leading up to the Battle of Arras, they tunnelled towards the German lines and laid three mines directly under their trenches, ready to detonate at the beginning of the Allied assault on the German lines on 9 April 1917. This, combined with the Allied attack, saw the German lines pushed back 11 kilometres.
After the Battle of Arras, the Company was assigned a number of tasks around Arras, such as bridge building. The tunnel system they created played an important role towards the end of the War. When the Company left France in July 1918, they had sustained 41 deaths and 151 injuries.
The tunnels were closed after the Second World War and were rediscovered in 1990. A memorial to the 41 of the Company who had died was unveiled in Arras in April 2007, 90 years after the Battle of Arras.
In February 2008, Carrière Wellington, a museum which incorporates part of the Company’s tunnel system, was opened in Arras.
View of the field of poppy tiles.
The field of poppy tiles placed in the Arras Tunnel have been placed to remind tunnel users they are passing through a memorial space. The tunnel contains the stretch of State Highway One through Buckle Street which previously ran alongside the National War Memorial. The poppies, which were designed and manufactured in Wellington, are scattered sparsely along the walls at each end and are more densely clustered where the tunnel passes underneath the park.
The simple design and placement of the poppies has been through a New Zealand Transport Agency safety approval process to ensure they are not overly distracting to drivers.
There will be a public walk-through of the tunnel on Saturday 27 September before it officially opens on Monday 29 September.
The National War Memorial Park will be open in time for Anzac Day 2015.
Updated on 7th October 2019