Rendez-vous at Wellington Quarry - Arras
In October 1914, the positions of the Belligerents stabilised around the Artois town of Arras, creating a salient in the Front. The highest buildings of the town were repeatedly shelled by the German Army's artillery and the town hall was burned to the ground along with the bell tower, symbol of the town's wealth, which collapsed on 21st October 1914.
During the Inter-Allied Military Conference held in Chantilly on 16th November 1916, the French and British commands decided on a common action to break through the German lines. The head of the French forces, General Robert Nivelle, was convinced that an attack on the Chemin des Dames Road in Aisne, in the spring of 1917, would allow them to achieve their objective. Field Marshal Douglas Haig agreed to his plan, which also required British troops to launch an attack further to the north to create a diversion. Its unique position on the Western Front meant that Arras was chosen as the starting point for this tactical offensive.
In order to concentrate as many fighting men as possible close to the line without raising German suspicions, the soldiers of the British Army dug tunnels to the Front which could be entered through the old chalk quarries which existed under the town. Two vast underground supply networks were built: in the one under the Saint-Sauveur area of the town the Scottish and English soldiers gave their tunnels names such as Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool; under Ronville, the New Zealanders chose names from their native shores such as Wellington, Auckland and Nelson. Today the Wellington Quarry is open to the public and visitors can discover how the Allied soldiers prepared for the Battle of Arras and how they occupied their time while waiting to go into combat.
On 9th April 1917, at 5.30 am GMT, an enormous explosion was the signal for 24,000 men to surge out of their underground hiding places and surprise the German lines. At the same time Canadian forces launched their famous attack on Vimy Ridge.