Tunnellers risked their lives digging under no-man’s land…

On 7 June 1917, around 600 tonnes of explosives, planted by British tunnellers, detonated under German trenches at Messines in Belgium.

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The blasts killed around 10,000 men, devastated German front lines, and was so loud it was heard in London.

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Though an extreme example, what happened at Messines illustrates perfectly why British commanders held their tunnellers in such high regard. They employed entire companies of men – often miners – to dig tunnels under no-man’s land, place mines below enemy positions and, if all went to plan, blow them to smithereens.

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Yet though tunnellers could cause spectacular damage to enemy trenches, theirs was a terrifying job. They worked in cramped, dark conditions for days – at risk of being permanently entombed by collapsing tunnels or detection by enemy tunnellers listening out for them in the dark.