Page last updated at 06:46 GMT, Monday, 15 March 2010

World War I tunneller's nephew is traced

John Abraham, the nephew of Thomas Collins, met historians Peter Barton and Jeremy Banning at his home in Swansea

A relative of a Swansea soldier whose story helped inspire a memorial to the tunnellers killed in World War I has been traced ahead of its unveiling.

Historians were desperate to invite any descendants of Thomas Collins, who was buried alive below No Man's Land, to the ceremony in France later this year.

But until a public appeal earlier this month they were unsure if any existed.

Not only have they traced Pte Collins's nephew John Abraham, they also now have a colour photograph of him.

The job of the tunnelling companies was to dig below the enemy trenches and blow them up while stopping the Germans doing the reverse.

Pte Collins was one of five men working 40ft underground in the Givenchy sector of northern France when, on 22 June 1916, a heavy German mine detonated cutting them off.

Rescuers managed to release three of them but Pte Collins was badly injured and was being comforted by Sapper William Hackett who refused to leave him.

Before they could escape the rescue shaft collapsed again under German shelling and the two men were permanently entombed.

John Abraham
His picture and his brother's picture took pride of place in my gran's parlour
John Abraham

A memorial to them and all the tunnelling companies will be unveiled at the site on Saturday, 19 June.

Historian Peter Barton, who has written a book about the tunnellers, is behind the small team that has made the memorial possible.

He wanted to invite any descendents of Pte Collins to the unveiling and after a public appeal 77-year-old Mr Abraham who lives in Swansea was traced.

He has been able to show Mr Barton and his colleague Jeremy Banning a colour picture of his uncle.

Pte Collins was the eldest of nine children and his brother Daniel was also killed in the conflict, explained Mr Abraham.

"His picture and his brother's picture took pride of place in my gran's parlour," he added.

"We were brought up to look at this picture and say 'they gave their lives for their country.'

"We knew that he was killed somewhere in France but we weren't sure exactly where.

"We knew he was a tunneller and that's all we knew."

He said he would be attending the ceremony and thought it "tremendous" that money had been raised for the memorial.

"It's amazing. It's a very important part of our history," added Mr Abraham.

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War tunneller's relatives sought
01 Mar 10 |  South West Wales

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