CREEGAN Patrick 1887 – 1917


102450 Sapper Patrick Creegan, 177th Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers was killed in action 3 June 1917, aged 30.  He is buried at Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery, Ypres, Belgium[1] and is commemorated on the Witton Park war memorials

Family Details

Patrick “Paddy” Creegan was born 1887,[2] at Witton Park the son of Peter and Bridget Creegan.  Peter and Bridget were born in Armagh, Ireland and were in Witton Park by 1874.  By 1891, they had 7 children:

  • Peter aged 17
  • Mary aged 12
  • John aged 10
  • Catherine aged 6
  • Patrick aged 4
  • Francis aged 2
  • Thomas aged 3 months

All were born at Witton Park other than Mary, who was born in Cheshire.  The family lived at 40 Thompson Street, Witton Park and both Peter and son Peter were employed as, “colliery labourers”.[3]  By 1901, another son Dennis had been born about 1892 and was aged 9.  The family still lived at Thompson Street, Peter senior was still a colliery labourer, 20 years old John was a coal miner (hewer) and 14 years old Patrick was a coal miner (driver).[4]  By 1911, the family had moved to Stanley Terrace, Stanley, Crook.  Peter senior had died and Bridget was head of the household.  John and Patrick were employed as coal miners (hewers), Frank and Thomas as coal miners (drivers) and Dennis as a, “boot repairer”.  Patrick’s sister Catherine, now 26 years old, was married to Joseph Varty and lived with the family with their 4 months old son, Thomas Albert.  Joseph, aged 27, was also a coal miner (hewer).[5]

By 1917, Patrick’s mother Bridget lived at 52 Lower Thompson Street, Witton Park.[6]

Military Details [7]

Patrick Creegan joined the 177th Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers and was given the service number 102450.  Being a miner, he volunteered or was recruited specifically to work on the preparation of tunnels.  An incentive was the rate of pay.  Face-men received 6 shillings a day, a mate 2 shilling and tuppence.  Both rates were significantly higher than an average infantryman whose daily pay was 1 shilling and threepence. A tour of duty in the tunnels was normally 4 days in and 4 days out but as time went by, due to the increasing number of casualties and the demands of the task in hand, tours were increased to 6 in and 2 out.  The men were also given more days leave than their infantry colleagues for example the aim for officers was a fortnight every 3 months.

The first 9 Royal Engineer Tunnelling Companies, numbers 170 to 178, were commanded by a regular RE officer.  They comprised 5 officers and 269 sappers, aided by temporarily attached infantrymen as required which almost doubled the number.[8] The 177th Tunnelling Company, formed in June 1915, under the command of Captain P.W. Bliss, R.E.[9]


10 June 1915: Sapper Patrick Creegan embarked for France.  The 177 Tunnelling Company, R.E. War Dairy for June 1915 records that on the following dates, the following numbers of men joined the company at St. Sylvestre-Cappel, northern France near to the Belgian border: [10]

  • 8th, 84 NCOs and men
  • 14th 62 NCOs and men 
  • 16th 70 NCOs and men

Sapper Patrick Creegan is likely to have been amongst these men. Billets were ½ mile west of Chateau Coutove, 2½ miles from Poperinghe on the road to Proven, Belgium.  Within 2 weeks, work had commenced sinking 2 shafts called Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.[11]   From its formation in June 1915 to July 1917, the 177th Tunnelling Company was part of the British Second Army and its HQ was at various locations such as Hooge, Wytschaete, Mount Sorrel, Messines and Railway Wood. [12]  The 177th Company was custodians of a front of nearly 3000 yards extending from Bois Carre in the south to Kruisstraat Cabaret in the north, with the village of Wytschaete in the centre.  In November 1915, the Company was relieved by the 250th Tunnelling Company [13] and moved to the Railway Wood area where it remained for 2 years. [14] 

102450 Sapper Patrick Creegan, 177th Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers[15]

By July 1916, there were a total of 32 tunnelling companies operating along the British Front:

  • 25 British
  • 3 Australian
  • 3 Canadian
  • 1 New Zealand. 

By mid-1916, the British Army had about 25,000 trained tunnellers, mostly volunteers taken from coal mining communities and almost twice that number of “attached infantry” worked permanently alongside the trained sappers as “beasts of burden”. [16]

The greatest Allied success in mine warfare of the Great War was witnessed at the Battle of Messines which took place between 7 and 14 June 1917 (see below).  However, the 177th Tunnelling Company was not involved in preparing mines for this offensive.  It was posted to the north of Messines in the vicinity of Railway Wood, Hooge and Wieltje continuing its work against German tunnellers.  Sapper Patrick Creegan was killed in action 3 June 1917, just 4 days before the Messines mines were detonated.

The Weekly Mine Report for 6 June 1917 records that work was carried on at a number of locations including: [17]   

  • Cambridge Road where steps from a dugout to the surface were completed,
  • Gladys, Murial and Maude at the Battalion HQ where dugout entrances and galleries were completed,
  • Archie at Brigade HQ where work on galleries and dugouts were completed,
  • Horace at a Dressing Station where work on galleries and dugouts took place,
  • Mud Lane, an exit was completed,
  • At positions H20, 6YA and 6ZB, a mine was blown on the 29 May at Momber Crater to which the Germans responded with 2 “blows” – a camouflet, 3 June at 3.30am and a crater, 4 June at 4am,  
  • Punch and Judy in Beek Trench where work associated with a shaft continued,
  • Toby, at a specific map reference, providing a step down to Cambridge Trench.

Accompanying notes in the war diary state:

“Work hindered greatly by enemy artillery activity (trench mortars) preventing disposal of XXX & interfering with parties getting up materials by night.  Considerable repairs to exits & c through above has been necessary.” [18]

The war diary summary for the month refers to the extreme artillery activity and that spoil could not be disposed of.[19] There is a report of the mine which exploded on 3 June which states that the underground damage was 59 ft. of 6YA and described as slight.[20] A report detailing the casualties for the month of June 1917 records that there were:

  • Royal Engineers – 4 men killed and 23 wounded
  • The infantry working parties – 1 man was killed and 23 wounded

For the 3 June, 3 RE men were killed and 3 were wounded and 6 other ranks wounded in the infantry working party.  The 177 Coy RE fatalities were: [21]

  • 132729 Sapper J.J. Cadman from Warwickshire
  • 102450 Sapper P. Creegan
  • 102425 Sapper E. Hull who lived at Esh Winning, County Durham

Three other local men who served with 177th Tunnelling Company, who died at other times were:

  • 102449 Sapper George A. Chatt, born at Barnard Castle and lived at Crook, enlisted with Patrick Creegan.  Their service numbers are consecutive.  He was killed in action 14 December 1915 and is commemorated by the memorial at RE Grave Railway Wood Cemetery on Bellwaerde Ridge, Zillebeke, Belgium.  It commemorates 8 Royal Engineers of the 177th Tunnelling Company and 4 attached infantrymen who were killed in action underground during the defence of Ieper (Ypres) between November 1915 and August 1917.  Their bodies were left in situ beneath the hill on which stands the memorial.[22] 
  • 102256 Sapper J.T. Milburn, born at Evenwood and lived at Shildon prior to the war with his wife and 6 children, died 31 March 1916 and is buried at Etaples Military Cemetery, France.[23] 
  • 157781 Sapper W.H. Bagley, born at Willington and lived at West Auckland and St. Helen’s Auckland, was killed in action 4 July 1917.[24]  He is buried at New Irish Farm Cemetery, near Ieper, Belgium and commemorated on the St. Helen’s Colliery Memorial Cottages and the Roll of Honour, West Auckland Memorial Hall, Co. Durham.

A few lines which follow, refer to the Battle of Messines and the work of other tunnelling companies.

The Battle of Messines 7 and 14 June 1917

At the commencement of the Battle of Messines, Major-General Charles Hartington, Chief of Staff of the British Second Army said:

 “I do not know whether or not we shall change history tomorrow but we shall certainly alter geography.”

The work involved the following:

“The culmination of mine warfare on the Western Front was the Second Army attack on the Messines Ridge on 7 June 1917.  In conjunction with the most powerfully concentrated artillery barrage to that date, 19 deep mines with a total of 937,450 lb of explosive were fired along the 10 km front at zero hour, all within 30 seconds of each other.  The explosions were clearly heard in London and registered on a seismograph in Switzerland.  The German defence was totally shattered with several thousand German troops obliterated by the explosions.  One of the most strongly fortified positions on the Western Front was taken within an hour or so with few casualties to the attacking Divisions. 

The concept of a deep mining attack against the Messines Ridge was first proposed in early 1915 by Major Norton Griffiths.  The first of the tunnels was initiated in July 1915.  In January 1916 General Sir Herbert Plumer (Daddy Plumer) approved an all-out effort.  At peak 9 Tunnelling Companies were employed on the preparations, including all three Canadian Companies.  Many of the mines were in position by mid-1916 and had to be preserved and defended for a year or more.

25 mines totalling 1,149,450 lb (522,500 kg) were laid.   One was lost to German counter mining, one abandoned due to tunnel collapse, and four at the southern end of the Ridge (Birdcage Sector) not employed for tactical reasons.  19 totalling 937,450 lb (426,110 kg) were fired.  The largest single charge was the St Eloi mine at 96,500 lb (43,600 kg). One of the four Birdcage mines exploded in a thunderstorm in July 1955.  Five fully charged mines containing 166,000 lb (75,500 kg) remain today.[25]

The map shows the Messines Ridge, mine craters and the Railway Wood sector to the north


Sapper Patrick Creegan was awarded the 1914-15 Star and the Victory and British War medals.[26]


Sapper Patrick Creegan is buried at grave reference VI.N.6 Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery, Ypres, Belgium.


Patrick Creegan’s sister Mrs. Catherine Varty was the sole recipient of his effects.[27]

The Tunnellers Memorial at Ballieul

Ploegsteert Museum: Tunnellers’ Memorial


Patrick “Paddy” Creegan was a coal miner who was born, lived and worked at Witton Park before moving to Stanley, Crook.  Presumably, it was there where he met and enlisted with George Chatt.  As miners, perhaps they thought the best way to serve their country was to use their skills at the front.  Tunnelling beneath the enemy lines was introduced midway through 1915 and miners were encouraged to volunteer and were recruited specifically for tunnelling work.  Patrick Creegan was at the forefront of this work.  He entered France in June 1915 and worked in the Railway Wood sector near Ypres, Belgium.  Sapper Patrick Creegan was killed in action 3 June 1917, aged 30.  He is buried at Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery, Ypres.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.199 Auckland 1887 Q1

[3] 1891 census

[4] 1901 census

[5] 1911 census

[6] Dependant’s Pension card index

[7] The service record of Sapper Patrick Creegan has not been researched.


[9] “Tunnellers: the story of the Tunnelling Companies, Royal Engineers, during the World War” Capt. W. Grant Grieve & Bernard Newman 1936 p.61

[10] The 177 Tunnelling Company, R.E. War Dairy for June 1915 WO 95-404-6 

[11] Grant Grieve & Bernard Newman p.61


[13] Grant Grieve & Bernard Newman p.61 p.216

[14] Grant Grieve & Bernard Newman p.248

[15] Courtesy of Dale Daniel


[17] Army Form W.3404

[18] Note:  without specific knowledge of the terminology of the day, some words are unusual – the unknown word I marked XXX refers to spoil and c may be shorthand for “carrying”.

[19] Army Form C.2118

[20] Mine Explosion Report (Enemy) dated 4 June 1917

[21] Soldiers Died in the Great War

[22] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[23] Commonwealth War Graves Commission and “Evenwood Remembers” Kevin Richardson 2010 p.59

[24] Commonwealth War Graves Commission


[26] Medal Roll card index, Roll of Individuals entitled to 1914-15 Star (undated) and Roll of Individuals entitled to the Victory & British War medals (undated)

[27] UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects Register Number 443367