The Durand Group/Fougasse Films
Duration 96 minutes (additional CD ROM folder over an hour)
Published April 2007
Although this film and CD Rom of additional graphics was first released in time for the 90th Anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge in April 2007, the content has not lost much of its dramatic impact. The graphics may today seem a little simplistic, but this helps the viewer understand the complex subject matter and keep up with events as they unfold.
The actual subject matter is two tunnels in the Vimy sector, originally dug by British Sappers in 1916. The research at the National Archives, uncovering diaries, maps, plans and photographs, eventually led to initial exploration as early as 1996 until finally excavation began in earnest in 2005. The film focuses on the work in one tunnel to determine whether a camouflet had prevented the explosives being detonated. The chalky tunnel is eventually broken through to, and a cornucopia of items is found – sacks of black crumbly ammonal, still in good condition, rubber air tubes, detonators, and even graffiti (the three dimension 'T' for tunnelers being especially poignant) including names and Army numbers of those who found themselves in the chthonic world, where every sense was heightened to detect the merest implication of the enemy nearby.
Some of the issues or problems encountered are covered – such as the further into the filled in tunnel the larger the pieces of chalk, which meant the portable conveyor belts began to struggle – until a solution in the form of sandbags was introduced. Also, to provide air to those working some ten plus metres below ground (a bore hole which was hooked up to a motor driven air supply along with a telephone cable). As the mine had not exploded in 1917, the group decided to neutralise the decaying explosive by "one man risk" protocol – in summary one man defusing the charges on his own. Tense minutes indeed.
The narration is clear, succinct and balances providing information with allowing the viewer to take in the amount of information (visually and audibly). Fittingly, the whole film is dedicated to the memory of Lieutenant Colonel Mike Watkins, who was killed attempting to create an entrance to the tunnels in 1998.
Reviewed by Richard Pursehouse