Miners At War 1914-1919

South Wales Miners In The Tunnelling Companies On The Western Front

Ritchie Wood

Date Published :
February 2017
Publisher :
Helion and Company
Series :
Wolverhampton Military Studies
Illustration :
many b/w photos, tables, maps, diagrams
Format Available    QuantityPrice
ISBN : 9781911096498
Pages : 320
Dimensions : 9.25 X 6 inches
In stock


The author’s compilation of a unique register identifying those individual South Wales miners who served in the tunneling companies has allowed a remarkable story to be told. For the first time, the lives of individual South Wales miners are highlighted from pre-war mining days: their very personal contribution within the tunneling companies, to the resting places of those who did not survive the war - and, for the survivors, their ultimate dispatch home. The underlying theme is of an indefatigable band of men, together with like-minded miners from other British coalfields, asked to carry out multi-tasked duties associated with a form of military mining not foreseen prior to the outbreak of war. Before a major battle, these men constructed large underground dugouts to house troops away from enemy shell fire. In exploding huge mines under German lines immediately before the British attack, they aided the advancing infantry in causing death and confusion in the German lines. During the British advance in 1918, they became experts in the dangerous work of defusing enemy booby-traps, delay-action and landmines in front of the advancing troops. They showed all the resolution, fortitude and determination - if not sheer bloody-mindedness - to see the job through; so reminiscent of the miner at home struggling to earn a decent rate of pay in the most arduous of conditions. There was a price to pay... Details are given of the 207 miners who died whilst on active service and of how many others were repatriated after gunshot wounds, gas poisoning or ill-health. Accounts are given of miners entombed underground as a result of enemy explosions; medals awarded for acts of bravery when attempting to free trapped miners; and of those taken as prisoners of war when the enemy broke into British workings. Old men and young boys lied about their ages to gain acceptance into the tunneling companies - and suffered the harsh consequences. A unique investigation such as this not only acknowledges the miners’ personal contribution as tunnelers, but also serves as a scholarly and novel addition to the existing literature concerning the history of the Great War, its tunneling companies, South Wales, its coalfield and the lives of its miners. There can be little doubt that this work will, in years to come, establish itself as a standard text in the history of military mining not only in a specific sense, but also as a work on the Great War in general.

About The Author

The author started his working career as a 15-year-old office boy at the Steel Company of Wales, Port Talbot. After serving a five-year Mechanical Engineering Apprenticeship - gaining a Higher National Certificate during this time - he spent over 40 years working abroad, including long spells as a mechanical engineer in tin mining in Malaysia; gold and coal mining in South Africa; and lecturing at a steelworks college in Misurata, Libya. On retirement, Ritchie decided to devote himself to the academic study of the mining operations of the British tunnelling companies during the Great War. After completing his PhD, he was awarded - at the age of 74 - his Doctorate at Swansea University in September 2012. His thesis was entitled ‘The South Wales Miners' Contribution to the Tunnelling Companies in the Great War’. Ritchie now enjoys giving talks around the country on events from 1900, including both First and Second World Wars. He lives in Cardiff with his wife, Marilyn, and his three children living nearby.


“This is not for those who suffer from claustrophobia…A remarkable set of men.”

- Miniature Wargames

“It is a highly readable book on a very special group of soldiers.”

- Who Do You Think You Are?, May 2017

“This is not for those who suffer from claustrophobia…A remarkable set of men.”

- The Long, Long Trail

“The book is well documented and illustrated, and is a fitting testament to the bravery of the men who made final victory possible.”

- Casemate: Journal of the Fortress Study Group

“ … This well produced, exceptionally detailed and readable account of the contribution made by Welsh Miners to operations on the Western Front is rather in the style of an academic thesis but is certainly not dull. This book contributes much to our understanding of military mining and the personal experiences of Welsh miners in the War. It is highly recommended.”

- Bulletin of the Military Historical Society

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