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Hollandscheschuur Farm Mines

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

In November 1915, 250 Tunnelling Company took over responsibility for a front of nearly 3,000 yards extending from Bois Carre south to Kruisstraat Cabaret, with Wytschaete village opposite the centre of the line.

Linesman map showing the front taken over by 250 Tunnelling Company.

The ground was wet, from the various small streams, and mining activity in the area was from shallow defensive mining in the clay-sands with the head cover being 5 metres (17 feet) and being so shallow caused the galleries to cave in when under bombardment. The shafts were sunk in the front line trenches as there was no second line and they had to use a system known as tethering. When a large shaft was sunk in soft ground it was difficult to keep the collar set, this was a frame of large timber pieces on which successive sets were hung, in position, square and level. To do this the first set was secured to stakes using wire or rope, the procedure was laid down in the R.E. Manual of Military Mining.

Captain Cecil Cropper, later Major, recognised the futility of these mines and suggested to the Canadian Corps, who occupied this front, about sinking the shaft to the clay bed before starting their drive.

War Diary 250 TC. Croppers recommendation

The Canadians gave him permission to do this and 250 Tunnelling Company began to deepen the shaft located in trench M.2. the shaft was sunk to a depth of 18 metres (58 feet) and the tunnel driven 130 yards to the German front line underneath the high ground known and their trench known as Nags Nose.

War Diary 250 TC. Cropper gets the go ahead

Linesman Map showing the Nag's Nose and the British front line in blue.

By March 1916, they had gone 100 yards beyond the German front line. The tunnellers had also disguised the shaft entrance to look like a dugout and this was protected by a machine gun. They had also started a second shaft just in case the first was discovered.

Despite these precautions the Germans had become suspicious and laid down heavy shelling registering several direct hits. All work stopped during this time and the gallery subsequently flooded. The work resumed at the end of May 1915 with the shaft and gallery being pumped out and cleaned up and at 243 metres (800 feet), shorter than had been planned, a chamber was created. The Germans continued to be suspicious and in June 1916, after hearing sounds beneath their lines, quickly sunk two timber lined shafts (Coln and Cassel) 5 metres through the wet ground. As the British were completing their gallery the first (Coln) was fired on 21 May 1916 and was to the right of the main British drive. The second (Cassel) was to the left of the drive and was fired on 11 June. The British repaired the damage and laid three charges in June (34,200lbs), July (14,900lbs) and August (17,500lbs) at depths of between 16 to 18 metres (55 to 60 feet). The Germans blew a camouflet on 10 February 1917, however, the British repaired the damage.

Linesman map from 1918 showing the three mine craters.

View of Hollandscheschuur Farm today from the British lines. To the left is the lip of one of the craters. The farm is private property. Authors image.

Memorial to Major Croppers Tunnellers

Located just off the main square in Wytschaete (now Wijtschate) is a bronze statue of a tunneller. A memorial to the men of 250 Tunnelling Company who dug the galleries for the eleven mines on this 3,000 yard front.

Authors image.

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