Men of 179th and 185th Tunnelling Companies

Parkes Ezekial

Sapper Ezekiel Parkes, 179th Tunnelling Company, killed in action 22nd November 1915.

For ten years I have been research the men and tunnelling operations at La Boisselle on the Somme. Here is a roll of many the men that I have identified so far. If you are related or have any information about them please contact me.

Join me on a battlefield tour with The Cultural Experience:

Aerial photo WW1 mine explosion craters Messines

Tunnellers on the Western Front: The Underground War, 15th-18th September 2023

Simon Jones Battlefield Tour Somme Poets 2019

The War Poets: Words, Music and Landscapes, 10th-13th July 2023

IWM Q3999

The Story of the Lochnagar Mine


Shirebrook Miners in the Tunnelling Companies 

Video of my talk ‘Born Fighters: Who were the Tunnellers?’

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30 thoughts on “Men of 179th and 185th Tunnelling Companies

  1. Hi. I love your site. I am looking into the Lochnagar crater in my own research and was wondering if you knew of any diaries which commented on the sound of the enormous explosion there on 1st July 1916? It was reputedly heard as far away as London. Thanks.

    • Hi Emily
      Mines like this didn’t make a loud bang and eyewitness accounts seldom if ever refer to a noise. It is usually the mines blown on 7 June 1917 at the Battle of Messines which are described as having been heard in London but that in itself is suspect: in that instance it was more likely the synchronised opening bombardment of about 1,500 British guns that was heard. The story of the Messines mines being heard in the UK is often repeated but I believe it to be a myth or a misconception.

  2. Thank you for your reply. I must admit I was dubious as to whether the guns and mines from France could be heard from London and that is why I have been looking into it, mostly to settle my own curiosity. It was in looking for further information that I came across references to the ‘loudest human-made sound’ coming from mines in WWI.

  3. 121966 Sapper Thomas Lloyd from Bargoed signed up 1916, survived and killed in 1939 – my step great grandfather. As a family we know very little about him but as a miner and in his forties when he went to war we believe he was a tunneller. A family member has a medal but won’t give any info as to whether further identifying detail may be inscribed on it. Have you ever come across this man please, I note a similar number was in 179th on your list so quite possible he was with him. Thank you

  4. Hi my great great uncle was Herbert speller killed in action in1916. He was in the 179 tunnelers. Wounder if u have any details of him .

  5. Hi Simon, I’ve got my Grandad’s dog tag from 185th company RE – name Joseph Wilson, but I haven’t been able to find anything about him during the war.
    My Dad said he was an officer, and I know he was a sewage and road engineer in civilian life, and I think quite a shy person.

    Have you come across him at all?

    • Hi Sarah, thanks for your message. I’ve not come across Joseph Wilson but would like to know more. Are there details on the dog tag like rank or number? There was a Royal Engineer officer from Dumbreck, Glasgow but many men of that name serving as you can imagine.

      • Hi Simon,

        Thanks for getting back to me.

        Yes, when I’ve looked previously there have been lots of Joseph Wilsons but none that sound like him.

        On the dog tag just J Wilson, c of e, 185 Coy RE.

        He was from Headingly Leeds – but born I think in Scarborough in the 1880s. He could be recorded as Joseph Ross Wilson.
        I haven’t got anything with a number on – just his silver snuff box with a very faded inscription – looks like ‘185th (tunn) Coy RE J Wilson 1915-16-17-18’ dated 25th Dec 1918 – my Dad said it was from left over mess funds after the war.

        I guess there were many many troops so records might not exist for all but if you do find anything I’d be very interested.


  6. Hi Simon, I’m desperately trying to find any photos of Edwin Rhodes who served in WW2 in the 179 Tunnelling Coy. Royal Engineers. He was born in 1904 and died in 1942 whilst serving in the war. His service number is 2046806, do you have any information or group photos etc.? Nicole

    • Hi Nicole, I’ve found one poor quality newspaper photo which I will email to you. Sadly photos of soldiers weren’t kept in their service records in the Second World War. Group unit photos survive randomly, they weren’t taken officially but by the units themselves. Some are in the Royal Engineers archives at Chatham but I have checked their online catalogue and can’t find one for 179 Tunnelling Company.

  7. Hi Simon,
    I am working on the military history of a family named Baldwin. One of the men served in the 179th Tunnelling Company and eventually rose to the rank of Captain.
    Captain (Quartermaster) JAMES ALEXANDER BALDWIN, (Formerly 13161 and 1851693 Regimental Sergeant Major)
    I am trying to find the names of any officers of the company who were fatalities during the war. Do you have such a list? Also, with your permission I would like to use the photo of Parkes from your web site.
    With best wishes,
    Edward De Santis, Lieutenant Colonel (Retired), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
    PS: My web site address will take you to my home page. I have not yet completed the work on the Baldwins. That will get uploaded when I finish, with credit to you for the information that your provide.

  8. Hi Simon, I have been investigating my wife’s great great uncle, Joseph Hynes a coal miner from Lochgelly in Fife. He was originally with the 1/7th (Fife) Royal Highlanders – Black Watch (SN: 1800) then transferred to the 179th Tunnelling Company RE (SN: 137545). He was killed on 13th March 1916 and the incident is captured within the company diary. We managed to visit his grave at Albert last year however I have been unable to find any additional information on Joseph and I wondered if you possibly had information within your research. My wife hopes that Joseph is one of the Lance Corporals posing in the group photo taken at Albert 1916. Thanks and kind regards

  9. Hello Simon. Looking for any information on William Blair Davies sapper 179th service number 112537. He was my grandfather

  10. Hello Simon, lovely site. I am looking for info on Lt. Henri (aka Henry) Oscar Routledge. I see you have him listed in your roll of officers with the 185th Company. Best wishes

  11. Hi Simon my great grandfather served in 179th. Thomas Jones (102977), unfortunately we was killed in action 31 December 1915. I have seen a copy of his service record but would be interested to see if you have any other information.

    • Hi Lee, It’s really great to hear from you. I’ll email you some other details but this is what happened. On 31 December 1915, Thomas Jones and Thomas Hornsey of 179th were working in a tunnel 80 feet below no man’s land preparing a chamber to carry explosives. At 4.30pm, the Germans detonated a 1.2 tonne charge which they had laid less than 20 feet away and were monitoring with a microphone. It was impossible to recover their bodies and they were abandoned in the tunnels. Their location is close to the main Albert – Bapaume road at the village of La Boisselle.
      Best wishes

      • Thank you Simon for the information. I’m only starting to understand more of his life until recently all we knew that we died in WW1 but I know his regiment, where he served and how he died.

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