|We will remember them
(Extracts from ANZAC Day presentation, 2008)
Miners at War
written for Quarrying & Mining magazine
A Tunneller's grandson tells his story
Committee member Mike Roycroft tells the story of his grandfather
The Caves of Arras
Thames Star 1917
Good War Service
Evening Post 1919
Most Frightful Fight Ever Seen
Wanganui Chronicle 1917
The New Zealand Tunnelling Company
Maori Television 2010
Unit War Diary, Arras
Nov 1916-April 1917
A Tunneller's grandson tells his story
World War OneVeteran, Lance Corporal James Roycroft No 43082 of the 5th Reinforcements arrived in France on 20th July 1917. He was sent to Arras where I believe he assisted in the construction of dugouts, machine gun emplacements and observation posts.
Jim went on to replacing the bridges destroyed across the many canals in and around the Havrincourt area.
He survived the war and returned to a hospital in Christchurch where he convalesced with leg injuries for 18 months before returning to Waihi and the goldmines.
The only reflection of his involvement with the war was when he was asked about his leg injuries.
His reply was always the same I got them from falling over a barbed wire fence chasing a Jerry
When asked about how he got the flare gun that he brought back, his reply was from the same Jerry.
The only other record we have of his story is the one surviving page of a letter sent to his brother Archie one year after arriving in France.Its a brief description of his experience at the Western front and his comparison to the old stoop on level 11 at the Martha mine where says he would rather be in preference to the front line.
Being raised in the small mining community of Waihi in the 50s and 60s still to this very day presents me with a childhood upbringing that I would never wish to replace.
My mother raised me with her large family of 13 made up of herself, 10 siblings, her mother and of course her father
As a young person enjoying the freedom of the 50s and compared with pig hunting, chasing girls and of course rugby union, the thought of history even at school was way down in the pecking order
And in parallel, open dialogue of what happened in the war from the veterans was definitely locked away in their memories never to be unlocked and shared with even those who were closest to them.
As expected my grandfather was no exception, therefore in the 50s especially with the aftermath of WW2 still fresh in everybodys minds questions about WW1 were never asked nor were they ever invited. Apart from the odd comical stories as previously quoted involving his injury and the flare gun (which you could never take seriously) even his sons have nothing on record about his experience. Hence WW1 was quietly distanced from our lives almost as if it had never happened.
However there was one regular vivid reminder of Jims physical scars from the war and that was his reaction to sudden noise, thunder and earthquakes.It was not until years later that the family realized that this was the obvious result of shellshock.
How were they to know?
It was not until some 48 years later that during a visit of the museums, battlefields, and cemeteries of Ypres in Belgium that the realities and the horrors of what happened between the years of 1914-1918 were brought home to me.
At the same time the realization that maybe this was the area that my grandfather fought in prompted my new found curiosity and enthusiasm into finding out exactly what regiment he was in, where he was situated and what his contribution and personal hardships were during this most horrific period of history and human sacrifice.
It was not until three years later when my uncle Buzz told me about the March 2009 Waihi descendants gathering and the story of Arras the Waihi connection and the involvement our own local heroes started to evolve.
In May 2010 my wife and I visited Arras and experienced first hand the whole NZ Tun Coy story. Anthony Byledbal (PhD Student from Arras) and Pascal and Isabelle of the Carriere wellington museum were most accommodating and looked after us with the contagious passion that one expects from the French.
The story of the tunnels, the museum the whole experience left us both not only emotionally charged but totally amazed that this historic event had been kept quite for so long.
Here was a historical event from probably the most historical war in history and our boys from my home town Waihi played a most important part in a most important battle in New Zealands military history and it had been swept under the carpet like a pile of old dust with nobody but a few wanting to talk about it.
It was ironic that we met an Australian couple at the Arras museum that had been touring the Battlefields of Belgium, and the Somme who were appalled that the Arras story was not a highlighted event in the WW1 most significant battles.
They were still reeling about finding out about their own soldiers heavy involvement with Hill 60 (The Messines Ridge).
The Hill 60 story has since been immortalized in the fantastic movie 'Beneath Hill 60'
My journey to Arras and the Roycroft's involvement in European wars be it fighting against France or defending France was not complete as we then travelled to Waterloo to visit the battlefield where almost exactly 100 years prior my great, great, great grandfather Robert Roycroft a Black watch veteran fought against Napoleon.
I have since discovered that my ancestory may even go back as far as to descending from France as it is believed that as Richard De Raycroft (later converted to Roycroft) joined Cromwells army to fight the Irish wars in 1641.
The connection of the Roycroft's and France were too incestuous for me to ignore. So my mind was made up, I had to somehow get involved with whoever and see what could be done about bringing the whole event into the public face of not only the people and descendants of Waihi, but also the NZ public and hopefully the world.
Upon my return to Australia and much to my delight I made contact with Sue Baker Wilson to discover that there was a very small active group of people working to immortalize our Tun Coy soldiers.
I have since joined with Sue to actively involve myself with the Tun Coy committee with the sole purpose of establishing:
1. A memorial /cenotaph in Waihi commemorating our Waihi miners involvement in Arras.
2. A descendant and any interested party tour to Arras France in 2017 to commemorate the centennial of the battle of Arras and the involvement of the NZ Tun Coy
3. The establishment of a Waihi Tun Coy museum.
These three projects are essential to preserving not only the history of New Zealands involvement in WW1 but more importantly in perpetually preserving the involvement of our very own Waihi ancestors who but through their ability as professional miners braved and fought their way in a senseless war so far removed from their home comforts of the little known peaceful valley of Waihi.
This story needs to be told; it needs to be immortalized so that all future generations of New Zealanders, Waihi descendants, visitors and tourists can be reminded of the human sacrifices that this small idyllic community gave to the establishment of peace in the world.
These projects do not happen on their own accord.
We need human resources to assist in completing all the projects and we will require funding via donations to pay for the projects.
First on the rank is the sourcing of a location for the design and installation of a Tun Coy cenotaph in Waihi.
I sincerely invite all interested descendants and parties to join the Tun Coy committee.
I invite donations that can be made to Waihi Heritage Vision for the erection of a NZ/ Waihi Tun Coy memorial.
I invite all interested descendants and interested parties to join us in forming a tour to travel to Arras France in 2017 to commemorate the centenary of the battle of arras.
I look forward to your involvement in all of the above.
Grandson of James Lewis Roycroft.