During the First World War, the underground tunnels of Arras called “Boves” were extended by tunnellers from New Zealand to create a tactical advantage for Allied forces. These tunnels were intended to house Allied troops massing for the 1917 Arras Offensive in complete safety and totally unknown to the Germans.
Two large quarry and tunnel networks were completed within five months. They ran from the centre of Arras to near the German front lines. The tunnel systems could accommodate up to 25,000 men and were fitted with running water, electric lights, kitchens, toilets, a light rail system and a fully equipped hospital.
The tunnellers dug 4,300 metres of tunnels. The record for metres of tunnel in a single day was set on 16 December 1916 when they dug 100 metres of tunnel. Tunnelling was carried out seven days a week, 24 hours a day, with individual tunnellers carrying out eight-hour shifts followed by 24 hours rest.
Apart from graves and memorials, the quarries are one of the very few physical traces left behind by the New Zealanders on the Western Front.
24,000 British soldiers hid in the Boves during the Great War. On 9 April 1917, at 5.30 am precisely, the British soldiers came out from their hiding place and charged at the German trenches. The surprise effect was total. At a few kilometres from Arras, the Allies ambushed German officers and troops having breakfast. This surprise attack was a success since the Germans were forced to withdraw by 10 kilometres. The Battle of Arras was the only Allied victory of the year 1917.
Every year in spring, the Tourist Office of Arras makes us discover the Boves from a different angle.
In 2006, the Boves’ garden was designed by Luc Brévart, an expert plastics technician, superintendent of exhibitions and an organizer of the workshop of Contemporary art gallery “Le Quai de la Batterie” (in Arras), with the aid of the Department of the green spaces of Arras city.
It was the theme of fairy tales that was honoured for this fourth edition: “The Fairy Tales’ Garden”. For three months, the visitors were able to admire the Boves, transformed for the occasion into an aromatic garden mixing plastic creations with light and sound to enhance the experience. Each tale was represented by a vegetable room. At twelve metres under ground, the visitors were literally immersed into the fantastic universe of the most famous fairy tales: Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Little Red Riding Hood, Peter Pan, Cinderella, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. The exhibition took place from 18th March to 18th June. For more information, you can contact the Tourist Office: +33 (0)22.214.171.124.95.
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves
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