A Roxburgh man’s experience in the tunnels under the Western Front has been documented in a digital guide to New Zealand’s World War 1 history.
The story of Sergeant Sam Vernon appears on Ngā Tapuwae, a website and app which guides people through World War 1 landscapes and sites of significance to New Zealanders.
Ngā Tapuwae is part of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage’s WW100 legacy project which commemorates the centenary of World War 1.
The site was designed to be used as a guide for travellers to the battlefields as well as for people who wish to explore the battlegrounds from home.
Stuart Park, Sgt Vernon’s great-great-nephew, wrote his biography which appears on Ngā Tapuwae.
He was pleased the story of Sgt Vernon and the other members of the New Zealand Tunnelling Company (NZTC) was being told.
“I admire very many aspects of the life, service and death of this remarkable man. He’s just a name on a war memorial, yet like all those named on those memorials, they deserve to be more than only names.”
Mr Park said although more information was coming to light, the tunnellers’ story was not well known to many New Zealanders and he felt their part in the war had been overlooked.
“They were not [considered] proper soldiers, they went to fight with pickaxe and shovel rather than rifle, yet they achieved remarkable things and arguably shortened the war.”
Sgt Vernon was born in Southland and settled in Roxburgh with his family at an early age.
He panned for gold and operated a sluice with his father before working on the West Coast and eventually returning to Central Otago where he married his wife, Maggie, in Roxburgh.
He enlisted in late 1915 as a sapper in the engineers and was quickly promoted to sergeant as a member of the NZTC.
He and the other tunnellers arrived in France in 1916.
Sgt Vernon was the first member of the NZTC to be killed in action on the Western Front that same year. He is buried in Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery, Arras, and his name is on the Roxburgh War Memorial.