Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée is a village some 27 kilometres north of Arras and about 5 kilometres west of La Bassée, a small town on the N41 road from Béthune to Lille.
From the main Béthune road take the turning into Cuinchy village. Continue over the canal and turn right at the junction where you see the panel directing Guards Cemetery off to your left. At the church in Givenchy (The junction is a: Stop) continue straight on. You will see the memorial to the 55th (West Lancashire) Division in front of you and the Tunnellers’ Memorial is within its lawn on the left.
Givenchy Communal Cemetery with a 1940 CWGC Plot is to the right.
Because of its particular situation the front around Givenchy (Not to be confused with another Givenchy village near Vimy) was stable throughout most of the war. The defence by the 55th (West Lancashire) Division in April 1918 became their most notable achievement when they defended the village against three German Divisions.
Unlike most of the surrounding countryside the area is slightly raised above the water table and this allowed both sides to conduct a mining war. At 0250 hours on the 2nd June 1916 the German 295 Pioneer Company blew a mine near the British positions creating what became known as the Red Dragon. It was specifically designed to create such a shock wave that it would not only disrupt trenches on the surface but also cause serious damage to British tunnels.
Twelve metres down Sapper William Hackett and four others were driving a gallery towards the German lines and the shock wave collapsed part of the tunnel behind them.
It took a rescue party two days to dig their way through to them and Hackett insisted that he helped three of the others escape despite the imminent danger of a further collapse.
Further shelling of the shaft head caused exactly that and Hackett and 22 year old Private Thomas Collins were buried alive.
William Hackett is the only Tunneller to have received the Victoria Cross.Their work was often so secret that it was not possible to recognise the numerous acts of bravery that occurred whilst carrying out their work.
His citation in the London Gazette of the 5th August 1916 reads:
For most conspicuous bravery when entombed with four others in a gallery owing to the explosion of an enemy mine. After working for 20 hours, a hole was made through fallen earth and broken timber, and the outside party was met. Sapper Hackett helped three of the men through the hole and could easily have followed, but refused to leave the fourth, who had been seriously injured, saying,“I am a tunneller, I must look after the others first.”
Meantime, the hole was getting smaller, yet he still refused to leave his injured comrade. Finally, the gallery collapsed, and though the rescue party worked desperately for four days the attempt to reach the two men failed. Sapper Hackett well knowing the nature of sliding earth, the chances against him, deliberately gave his life for his comrade
This memorial commemorates the endeavours of the men of the Tunnelling Companies of Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, who during the Great War lived, fought and died underground in France and Flanders.
It was unveiled on the 19th June 2010.
It is erected in special remembrance of Sapper William Hackett VC of 254 Tunnelling Company RE, and Private Thomas Collins of the 14th Battalion, The Welsh Regiment, who both still lie forty feet beneath the field in front of this memorial.
…No record in the world ever touched the footage, yield per ounce of pluck, endurance and devotion to duty, and no forces endured more. One silent toast to those who memorise a glorious record in their ever silent tunnels.
Sir John Norton-Griffiths
The dimensions of the panel (British Lakeland slate) are those of the Shaftsbury Gallery in which William Hacett VC and Thomas Collins still lie. The words are framed by drawings of the tunnellers mining equipment – including the canaries and mice.
The circular base is the same diameter as the Shaftsbury Shaft by which the tunnellers descended into the gallery.
As you look through the ‘T’ on the monument your gaze is directed towards the area of the Shaftsbury Gallery in the field beyond. The Red Dragon would have been off to the right.
A highly informative panel explains the history of the tunnellers and their involvement at Givenchy together with maps and a drawing showing the .
William Hackett is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium whilst Thomas Collins is on the Thiepval Memorial.