In the lead-up to the Western Front Anzac Day commemorations, Corporal Tainui Woodmass checks out a sculpture to commemorate the New Zealand Tunnelling Company in Arras.
19 April 2017
Corporal Tainui Woodmass, a giant of a man, stands tall on the battle fields of the Western Front as part of the New Zealand Defence Force Anzac Day commemoration contingent.
Corporal Woodmass, 32, from Shannon, is a plumber in the Royal New Zealand Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and is a member of the Maori cultural group that has travelled to the other side of the world to remember those who fell and who returned home in every military conflict.
It was on the Western Front that New Zealand made its most significant contribution to the First World War, and also where New Zealand suffered the greatest loss of life.
Based at Linton Military Camp in 2nd Engineer Regiment, Corporal Woodmass is a passionate rugby player who has represented the Army and the New Zealand Defence Force. He travelled to France in 2015 as part of the Defence Blacks but injury ended his tour early.
This time his visit has taken him into the labyrinth of tunnels under Arras that the New Zealand Tunnelling Company of the Royal New Zealand Electrical and Mechanical Engineers dug to launch the battle of Arras in April 1917.
In a moving service in the tunnels 20 metres underground, Corporal Woodmass gave a reading that described the conditions faced 100 years ago by his engineer tunneling counterparts, who spent months planning the surprise attack on the Germans from beneath the ground.
“The tunnels are an amazing place and it is humbling to see the conditions the men lived in,” he said.
He spent some time inspecting a new sculpture titled The Earth Remembers, by New Zealand artist Marian Fountain, which commemorates the efforts and lives of the New Zealand Tunnelling Company in Arras.
The sculpture was unveiled for the commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Arras on 9 April, 1917.
A hollowed-out work that depicts a New Zealand soldier and decorated inside with passages from letters home and the faces of soldiers who gave their lives to the war, the sculpture is a moving and tactile piece of art.
Corporal Woodmass, a former Te Aute College student, joined the Army in 2003 because he wanted to experience the excitement of a military career. He got the added bonus of gaining some essential life skills.
He said today’s military engineers had diverse skills and being an engineer in the New Zealand Army gave skills that could be translated outside the organisation.
“Being an engineer varies from specific trade tasks, such as plumbers to combat engineering roles to all-arms soldiering,” he said. “The Army can also be a stepping stone to other careers, as well as instilling self-confidence and discipline.”
The Western Front contingent is conducting tours to learn about the battles that took place in the region and are visiting several cemeteries while overseas to pay respects to the fallen, as well as taking part in the official services, including Last Post ceremonies at Menin Gate.
Information about the Anzac Day-related ceremonies and First World War commemorations can be found at WW100.govt.nz/international-commemorations.