Arras Tunnel honours the men of the WW1 New Zealand Tunnelling Company
The tunnel honours the men from the NZ Tunnelling Company who worked to build tunnels in WW1 under the French medieval city of Arras.
On the Arras memorial in France are the names of forty-one New Zealanders who lost their lives in these tunnels.
There are two men, with Plimmerton connections, who were involved with the Tunnelling Company and this article commemorates the service of Henry David Codyre.
Henry David Codyre was born in Westport, 10 September 1890, the son of Henry John and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Codyre. Henry had two elder brothers Martin Henry (1888) and Joseph Michael Codyre (1889).[i]
On 15th May 1915 Henry Codyre, Fireman of Wellington enlisted for service but there is no record of him being accepted into the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF). The rejection may have been on medical grounds, in the first nine months of the war up to a third of otherwise fit men were not selected because of their teeth. Another potential reason may have been that Henry David Codyre had, prior to the war, some minor brushes with the law.
On 2nd October 1915 under the alias of Kenneth Russell, Henry David Codyre, re-enlisted for service with the NZEF, this time he was accepted. Kenneth Russell gave the address of his ‘father’ as Palmerston Street, Westport the same street that Henry Codyre’s mother lived in. Kenneth Russell listed his occupation as a miner and because of this was attached as a sapper in the New Zealand Engineering Tunnelling Company.[ii]
On 15 December 1915 4/1644 Sapper Russell departed New Zealand as part of Head Quarters, No 3 Relief, NZ Tunnelling Company, bound for France. The men of the NZ Tunnelling Company, in March 1916, were the first New Zealand troops to arrive in France for action on the Western Front.[iii] The Company was initially engaged in counter mining activities in North-East Arras area before being transferred in November 1916 to Arras working on construction of the Arras Tunnel complex. In France Sapper Codyre declared his real name and military records have been adjusted from Russell to Codyre. [iv]
The Wellington Cavern, part of the Arras tunnel complex, in France which is now a museum.
The tunnellers were hard men and their Commanding Officers complained he had '17 ex-secretaries of Labour Unions in the unit, as well as members of the 'Red' Federation of Labour.’[v] Sapper Codyre would have a number of brushes with military discipline during his time in France. The tunellers worked in difficult conditions this resulted in Sapper Codyre being admitted to hospital a number of times. On 6 August 1917 Sapper Codyre’s service record noted he was suffering Rheumatic Fever,[vi] a condition that would continue to impact him for the rest of his life. Sapper Codyre was evacuated to England where on 19 September 1917 he was assessed as medically unfit and on 2 November1917 he boarded the Tainui for return to New Zealand. Sapper Codyre arrived back in New Zealand on 18th January 1918 and he was discharged as ‘no longer physically fit for war service on account of illness contracted on active service.’[vii]
Sapper Codyre’s Certificate of Character is marked as Fair with it being noted that his issues with discipline:
‘Does not warrant Good Character – his offences have mostly been of a purely military nature.’[viii]
Henry David Codyre married, 22 June 1918, Nellie Ena Tomlinson, it is possible that Nellie met Henry on the Tainui or followed him back to New Zealand.[ix]
Henry and Nellie moved to Motuhara Road, Plimmerton in the 1920’s with Martin (1925), Edwin M (1926) and Joan (1928) listed as attending Plimmerton School.
Henry David Codyre worked in the 1930’s Depression as a ‘Relief Worker on the Sunset Parade seawall.[x] Henry also received a small war pension, as a result of the rheumatic fever contracted on active service, but had difficulty in adjusting to civilian life. He died aged 48, in 1939 ‘a patient sufferer at rest’[xi] . Nellie Ena Codyre died in 1949.
Henry David Codyre and Nellie Ena Codyre mid 1930's.
27993 Private Frank Thomson was attached to the NZ Tunnelling Company for three months from February to April 1917 and also in the 1930’s worked on the Plimmerton seawall. (Read story already published)
There will be future ANZAC stories on Henry and Nellie’s two sons Martin (Marty) and Edwin (Eddy) both Plimmerton boys who volunteered for service with the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the Second World War.
Allan Dodson – November 2014
Open Day - Arras Tunnel, Wellington: Google Photos
Wellington Cavern – Arras Tunnel, France: Google photos
Henry David Codyre and Nellie Ena Codyre: Codyre Family collection.
Archway Archives New Zealand, Military Files: 4/1644 Sapper Henry David Codyre aka Kenneth Russell
NZ Tunnelling Company 1915-1919: J C Neill
[i] Joseph Henry Codyre served in WW1 with the 3rd Battalion, Australian Imperial Forces (AIF)
[ii]Archway Archives New Zealand, Military files: 4/1644 Henry David Codyre (Kenneth Russell)
[iii]NZ Tunnelling Company 1915 -1919
[iv]Archway Archives New Zealand, Military files: 4/1644 Henry David Codyre
[v]NZ Tunnelling Company 1915-1919
[vi]Archway Archives New Zealand, Military files: 4/1644 Henry David Codyre
[vii]Archway Archives New Zealand, Military files: 4/1644 Henry David Codyre
[viii]Archway Archives New Zealand, Military files: 4/1644 Henry David Codyre
[ix]Oral History: Codyre Family
[x]Oral History: Codyre Family
[xi]Evening Post, 14 June 1939: Death notice Codyre