Regimental History of New Zealand Cyclist Corps in The Great War 1914-1918
Chapter VII. — Cable Laying
On return to our permanent area, training was carried on and the lessons learnt with the Cavalry were adopted in our manoeuvres.
To provide protection of ammunition dumps against enemy bombing aircraft, a detachment of the Battalion Lewis guns—6 with gun teams complete—were sent to Steenbecque where there were several large army dumps of big gun ammunition. Lieuts. G. L. Corner and G. Clark Walker and 48 other ranks were employed on this work under direction of an Anti-Aircraft Battery.
During March the officers of the Battalion reconnoitred the whole of the Corps front with a view of becoming acquainted with it in the event of operations. Twelve selected men were to the Corps Headquarters for training as Corps Guides. These men learned every road, trench and sap in the area and were most useful to new troops arriving.
A small detachment under 2nd Lieut. A. C. P. Hay was sent to the vicinity of Outersteene to fell some 100 huge trees for sawmilling purposes. The expert axemen, including Private J. E. Shewry (the N.Z. Champion, 1916), soon made short work of the job and the work was well done too.
On the 1st April the Unit was ordered to proceed to Regina Camp near Ploegsteert and to be attached to the N.Z. Working Battalion under Major Pow, N.Z. (R) B. for work on Cable Burying under A. D. Signals 2nd Anzac Corps. The work we were engaged on was called "The Corps Buried System of Communications" and consisted of burying cable containing telephone wires in a trench 6, 7 and 8 feet deep (according to the proximity of the front line) in order the better to preserve the lines from damage by page 37enemy shell fire. All this work was carried out behind the front line in the area which received the full benefit of the enemy's wrath. The ground through which we dug was in many cases a sea of shell holes. Naturally the ground was very loose, and I have in many cases seen where a digger would be just completing his task (7 x 6 x 2½feet) and have the whole trench fall in. The supervising officer was responsible for burying 7 feet and the trench would have to be redug. This was very disheartening to the men, especially when digging at night—a case then of feeling your way ("no lights allowed.")
The N.Z. Working Battalion had been in existence for about three weeks and had buried some 10,000 yards or so. The whole system of connecting the front, reserve and support lines, batteries, various Headquarters, entailed the digging of some 23 miles of running trench.
On the 3rd April Major Pow rejoined his Battalion and the command of the Working Battalion was given to Major C. H. Evans, who continued the programme until the job was completed on 19th May. As the lines in the back areas were completed by day, the work in the forward areas had to be done by night as the ground was under direct enemy observation from Messines. The personnel of the Working Battalion frequently changed, Brigades withdrew Companies and substituted others. During the period there were attached Australian Light Horse and O.M.R. from the 2nd Anzac Mounted Regiment and a Company from the 3rd Australian Division, besides our Battalion and the three N.Z. Division Companies. The whole work comprised over 23 miles of trench, and the wires buried averaged 50 pairs (one line had 84 pairs) sufficient to make one line with return wire of 1,100 miles.
The value of the system was manifested in later operations when it enabled communications to be kept intact despite the heaviest shelling.page 38
On the 19th May the system was completed and the Working Battalion disbanded, the various Units returning to their Brigades etc. The Corps Commander sent a very appreciative letter to the troops and thanked them for their good work. All ranks worked hard, despite unfavourable conditions, oftentimes in water and mud to the waist, heavy shelling, etc. Our Battalion finished its work with the Working Battalion on the 15th May and moved into new billets near Steen-Werk, where training was continued.
It may be interesting to mention in regard to the cable burying operations the Battalion was engaged in during the years 1917-1918 that the total length of trench, excavated to a depth of 7 feet and over, by and under the supervision of the Battalion was over 56 miles, and as the average number of wires laid was over 50 pairs, the total length of wire works out at about 5,600 miles.page break