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The Arras’ underground tunnels

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.

Arras underground tunnels

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.

Arras underground tunnels

 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)

Arras underground tunnels

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves

Arras underground tunnels

Arras underground tunnels

Arras underground tunnels

11 responses so far

11 Responses to “The Arras’ underground tunnels”

  1. maureen morganon 11 Aug 2014 at 1:27 pm 1

    Please would you email your excellent brochure about the tunnels of Arras to me ?

    I will be visiting Arras in September and thank you in advance for your kind help.
    Maureen Morgan.

  2. Arras Guideon 12 Aug 2014 at 4:30 pm 2

    Hi Maureen,

    I have added a link on the “About” page where you can download 4 brochures about Arras’s history, the things to visit and the Artois region. They also talk about the Arras underground tunnels. They are written in English and French and were made by the Tourist Office. Enjoy your stay in Arras!

  3. NiaValon 24 Jan 2015 at 4:34 am 3

    Kia Orana
    I am writing from New Zealand if I wanted to look at an exhibition gallery or museum for commemorating Cook Islands soldiers in the Great War to take upcoming show to Arras what gallery would i talk with. The Exhibition is an Arts & Culture one that has contribution from the past and present

    Look forward to your reply

    Kiwi Cook Islands artist – NiaVal

  4. Arras Guideon 24 Jan 2015 at 5:06 pm 4

    Hello NiaVal,

    You can have a look on this page to find the contact information of the Arras’ Fine Arts Museum :

    They will be able to help you.
    Best Regards,

  5. […] […]

  6. Eunice Andrewon 17 Jul 2016 at 10:48 am 6

    I have two relatives staying with me from New Zealand. They are hoping to visit Arras on Wednesday 27th July and see the tunnels that the New Zealand soldiers dug. This is because their relative was there digging the tunnels!
    Can you please tell me the times of the guided tours and how long they last.
    Thank you.
    Eunice Andrew

  7. Arras Guideon 27 Jul 2016 at 11:11 am 7

    Hi Eunice,

    Sorry for the late reply, I just saw your comment. The visit of the tunnels takes about 30 minutes with a guide. Your relatives will need to go to the Arras’ Hôtel de Ville to buy the tickets for the visit. The Hôtel de Ville is located just below the Arras’ Bell Tower. This is where the Arras Tourist Office is located.

  8. Neil Goodchildon 29 Jul 2016 at 8:54 am 8

    My grandfather served at Arras in 1917. The regiment’s war diary says they were billeted in the cellars under the museum before they attacked on 9th April. Can you tell me where the Museum was at that time and if you can provide any details on if those cellars were linked to the sewers and tunnels as many were. Can you tell me who to contact for this information if you are not able to supply it?
    I look forward to your reply.

    Neil Goodchild

  9. Arras Guideon 15 Oct 2016 at 7:39 pm 9

    Hello Neil,

    The Arras Tourism Office’s team should be able to answer your questions.
    Here is their email address :
    Their phone number : +33 (0)3 21 51 26 95
    And here is their official website (available in English also) :

    I hope this will be helpful to you.

    Best wishes,

  10. John Wiznukon 29 Mar 2017 at 7:31 pm 10

    Nice article and photos. But I wonder if the “British” troops that you mention sheltering in the tunnels were Canadian? I’ll be there this April 9 to commemorate Canada’s part in the Battle of Arras, the taking of the assumed impregniable ridge: as is mentioned the only Allied victory of 1917. My Grandfather was there, a Canadian gunner in the 4th Division. Though Canadians were, technically, British Subjects we are a might prickly about being called British.
    John Wiznuk

  11. wolstenholmeon 19 Sep 2021 at 12:37 pm 11

    my uncle was a lance Seargent british army, he was 19 when he was wounded in the shoulder, going over the top from the trenches, he had been in the army for three years. no nice tunnel for him. why wasn’t he evacuated ? because the fighting and shelling made it impossible, and he bled to death. but he did inherit a bit of france and is still there. war grave. nice as your efforts are, to pretty the place up. the waste of life, on both sides, won’t be soon forgotten. and that’s, not counting, all of the civilians, caught in the middle. least we forget ? so, how come we are still killing each other ? it seems that we are slow learners, that have forgotten ?