Tunnels and 'rabbit holes'

Captain Morris black and white photo Col Morris as an elderly man Nell Hentschel holding a teddy bear in military uniform with tree trunk as background

Like many World War One veterans, Albert Colin Morris (known as Col) did not talk about the war.

A century later, more is now known about Col’s military service as a result of his great-great-niece, Nell Hentschel, researching her relative for the Frank MacDonald Study Tour 2019.

Nell never knew Col but through research, family memories and travelling to the Western Front gained a greater understanding of Col and the men who served.

Nell, of Bayview Secondary College, Rokeby, in Tasmania, was a member of the Frank MacDonald Study Tour in 2019 and visited significant World War One sites.


soldiers in a tunnel

Col, an engineer, enlisted in the Mining Corps on 21 October 1915.  On arriving in France, the Mining Corps was disbanded, and three Australian Tunnelling Companies were formed. Col was made Captain of the 3rd Australian Tunnelling Company and he was to remain leader of his company until Allied success and the end of the war.

Col’s company relieved British tunnelling companies in April 1917 at Hill 70. Already extensive tunnelling systems had been set up and German encounters had reduced by the time the Australians arrived. Their main job here was to create trench dugouts that provided much needed shelter to the ground troops.

The tunnels were eerily quiet, compared to the loud gunfire from fighting above ground.  Ankle deep mud and water often lay along the floors of the underground paths and miners suffered infected feet from the moist environment. The men had to stay quiet, speaking only in hushed whispers to avoid enemy miners in nearby tunnels from hearing where they were. Miners often ran into enemy tunnels, they fought in hand to hand combat.

Two young women wearing helmets in a tunnel

Nell and Mia Cooper explored World War One tunnels during the Frank MacDonald Study Tour.

Visiting Hill 70

On 31 January 1918, Captain A. C. Morris, Commander of No. 3 Section, 3rd Australian Tunnelling Company, was photographed standing near an intermediate entrance to Hythe Tunnel, in a communication trench known as Hythe Alley, at Hill 70, near Loos, in France.  In 2019, Captain Morris' great-great-niece Nell Hentschel visited Hill 70.  Photo of Captain Morris  Australian War Memorial collection E01712.

Captain Morris standing in a trench near tunnel entrance Nell Hentschel holding at teddy bear in military uniform at the Hill 70 Memorial

Standing at Hill 70, where Col and masses of troops fought during the war, brought Nell closer to not only his own story, but that of the thousands of the mining men in World War One.

As Nell learned more about wartime, there was also the realisation of never being able to fully understand what Col experienced fighting in the war; the long sleepless nights, waking up in sweats, shaking from the memories of constant gun fire or the contrasting eerie silence of the mining tunnels.

Participating in the Frank MacDonald Memorial Study Tour developed a deeper understanding of not just the fact and figures but what happened to real people.  While individual soldiers are at the centre of the Frank MacDonald Study Tour research, every soldier has their own story, family, friends, circumstances, luck and tragedy all wound up together in a major historical event.

Nell hopes that by sharing Col’s story his legacy will continue to inspire people to take an interest in their incredible stories and keep the memories alive.

One story leads to another...

Researching soldiers can inevitably lead researchers to wanting to find out more about other soldiers. It can be like 'going down a rabbit hole'.  Nell was no exception, as she researched Captain Albert 'Col' Morris, she also researched her great-grandfather Ekke Beinssen, Captain Richardson and Sapper Joseph John (Jack) Cannon.  Nell chose to research Sapper Cannon after seeing his memorial plaque on Soldiers Memorial Avenue on the Queens Domain, Hobart.

Read Nell Hentschel’s research about Captain Albert Colin Morris and others. (PDF, 639.85KB)