Review of “Miners at War 1914-1919”

Miners at war 1914-1919: South Wales miners in the Tunnelling Companies on the Western Front
by Ritchie Wood
published by Helion & Company, 2017
ISBN 978 1 911096 49 8
Hardback, 298 pages plus appendices, bibliography, index. Illustrated.
Cover price not stated by publisher’s note says £35.
Reviewed by Chris Baker.

According to the publisher’s notes this is another book in the “Wolverhampton Military Studies” series, although I could not spot a reference to that within the book itself. Like many others from that series, it is based on the author’s PhD study: Ritchie Wood’s thesis was on the South Wales miners’ contribution to the Tunnelling Companies. He is, perhaps, an unusual PhD in that it comes late in a long working life as a mechanical engineer in various mining industries. Bravo to the Universities of Birmingham and Wolverhampton for supporting such “mature students” in military studies!

At the core of the book is an attempt to identify these men individually – no mean task, given the destruction of many individual service records and without good nominal rolls to work from. At the easier end of things, from a research viewpoint, are the 207 men who lost their lives. Wood describes how he identified the miners and helps bring them “alive” as far as is possible. After opening chapters analysing the industry of that region and the early recruitment of miners, we are presented with a number of case studies of individuals; some interesting timelines of who joined up, when, and what happened to them; and short histories of the Tunnelling Companies to which they were posted.  The author explains the work of the tunnellers, including some good plain English covering fairly technical matters, and generally puts the South Wales men into context.

The book is profusely and well illustrated but the production of some of the many photographs, maps and charts does not come up to Helion’s usual high standard, being rather fuzzy or otherwise out of focus. This does not affect the book terribly much and perhaps it was unavoidable, but it is a pity. Some of the text on the charts would be difficult for anyone with poor sight, being so small, and there is a sprinkling of typographical errors. Page 251, as an example, has a map that is virtually illegible and a place name in the caption is mis-spelled. A bad day at the editor’s office or a sign of a fall in standards with so many titles being published? Let’s hope not, for in every other aspect the book is at Helion’s exemplary standard.

Overall, for anyone interested in the terrible underground conflict, or indeed in South Wales in general, “Miners at war” is certainly an interesting read.


Buy it


The Tunnelling Companies of the Royal Engineers