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2nd Cpl. Adam Graham
British Army 250th Tunnelling Company Royal Engineers
(d.15th Jun 1916)
Adam Graham was my great grandfather. He was a miner living in Stirling and joined up in September 1915. He was a tunneller with the Royal Engineers and was involved at the Messines Ridge near Kemmel, Belgium. On 10th June 1916 the Germans blew a mine above the tunnel in which my grandfather was working along with eleven other men. The tunnel was known as the Petite Bois. As a result of German action, the men were trapped at far end of the tunnel basically under the German front lines. The tunnel had collapsed behind them trapping them in the gallery. It took the rescue party six and a half days to get to them and by then eleven of the men were dead. There was one survivor who was able to tell the tale. My great grandfather died on 15th June 1916 and is buried along with his comrades side by side in Kemmel Chateau military cemetery. The Petite Bois tunnel was one of the mines blown a year later in June 1917. My great grandfather, Adam Graham, was 41 years of age and left a wife and five children. The oldest was my grandfather also Adam aged 16 who immediately joined up.
From Captain W.Grant Grieve's Tunnellers: "At 6.30 on the morning of 10th June 1916, the enemy fired two heavy mines at the shoulders of the salient just outside his own lines. Blue clay was exposed in both the craters indicating that the galleries from which they were blown were at a considerable depth. As was his practice, these craters were incorporated into his trench system, sniping and bombing posts and machine gun positions being constructed in the forward lips.
The northernmost of these blows was almost directly above our S.P.13 gallery, and was fraught with disastrous results to us. The main gallery between 1,250 feet and 1,500 feet was completely smashed in, and twelve unfortunate men working at or near the face were trapped, imprisoned in the confined space in the undamaged end of the gallery. Their predicament was desperate. Every breath they breathed poisoned the fetid, though precious, air so vital to their very existence…. Was there no hope of release? Must they all suffer the tortures of a lingering death in the utter darkness 100 feet below ground? There was just a chance, feeble enough, and the knowledge that their comrades would spare no efforts to effect their release no doubt gave them hope. Rescue and repair gangs were rushed to work with all possible speed, the miners gallantly working in frantic haste in an endeavour to release their entombed mates. It is traditional with miners that they never spare themselves or despair of rescuing their comrades. Night and day they strove with relentless determination amounting almost to a frenzy. For six and a half days they toiled with breathless energy, their half-naked bodies begrimed with clay and bathed with the sweat of exhaustion and anxiety, straining every muscle lest they should be too late. At last, it seemed an age, the broken ground was passed and a connection made to the undamaged gallery. By this time, however it was quite hopeless to expect to find the men alive. An eager search proved their worst fears to be only too well founded. Body after body was found-eleven in all. It was presumed that the twelfth man was buried under the fallen gallery. The workers were therefore withdrawn to allow the foul air to clear from the gallery.
Later they returned to the gallery, and to their utter amazement they discerned in the dim, uncertain light, something moving. This, they thought, surely must be supernatural. Under the circumstances they well may have been pardoned for showing some diffidence. But their apprehension was momentarily only; scarcely believing their eyes, they saw the sole survivor crawl back from a living grave.
This man, Sapper Bedson, told how the entombed men had collected at the broken end of the gallery, where a little air was coming through the air pipe which they had disconnected. They then began by turns to dig their way out. This effort they soon abandoned and spaced themselves along the gallery. Gradually, however, they were overcome by the foul air, and in three days all but one were dead. Bedson, however, was an experienced miner. He avoided the broken end, where heavy air accumulated, and lay by the face, which was a little higher. He comforted himself by the reflection that a party of coal miners were entombed for thirteen days and then rescued alive. He kept his head marvellously. His only food consisted of two army biscuits and a bottle of water. He dare not eat the biscuits nor drink the water. From time to time he rinsed out his mouth with water and returned it to the bottle. To keep himself warm he improvised a suit from sandbags. Every night he slept on a crude bed made by placing sandbags on a bogie truck, winding up his watch before retiring! And when after six and a half days he was rescued – hauled through a small hole in the broken ground – his first words were: “For God’s sake give me a drink! It’s been a damned long shift!” He was taken to the shaft on a mine stretcher placed on a bogie wagon in charge of the M.O. At the shaft he was rested for two hours. During this time his mind was quite clear and he could answer quite sensibly. Even then Bedson’s perils were not all over. As he was being carried down the communication trench he and his stretcher party had the narrowest of escapes from shell-fire!
Bedson had already his share of war’s scars. Wounded on this very front in 1914, after recovery he was sent to Gallipoli, where he was wounded again. Now, returning to Flanders – this time as a Tunneller – he had to undergo an ordeal grave enough to try the stoutest heart. Yet when he had recovered from his appalling experience, his first act was to volunteer to return to his old unit! It was rightly considered, however that he had done his bit, and he was given a job at the Base Depot."
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