The original version of this memoir was entitled The Lighter Side of a Tunneller’s Life; he has hoped to get it published in the late thirties, but this was a period when many publishers considered that there was ‘memoir fatigue’ as regards the Great War — and a new war was looming.
With a background in mining and tunneling (the internal evidence suggests that some of this was done in South Africa), he served with a Tunnelling Company and was then transferred to GHQ in Montreuil to handle mining plans and records. The British organized their mining at Army and GHQ level, with a close control on operational activity being reserved to GHQ. In due course he was appointed as one of the Assistant Inspectors of Mines, a small group of Royal engineers’ officers who operated as the eyes and ears of the Inspector of Mines, who exercised overall control on mining operations. His activity in this role is particularly important for the period after the June 1917 Messines Offensive, when the use of mining for blows against the enemy substantially diminished — indeed, all but disappeared — and the tunneling companies were reallocated to a new range of tasks.
His manuscript, produced in 1933, was intended for publication, but remained no more than a draft, rescued some time ago by one of the editors from the Royal Engineers’ archives at Chatham.
Dixon remarks that the carnage and horrors of war have been deliberately omitted, for enough and to spare has been written about these aspects by countless others. His manuscript, alternatively, provides a valuable insight into the overall conduct of mining operations and the tactical and strategic considerations that rarely feature in other accounts.
He was at the centre of staff activity that set about countering the effects of the German Kaiserslacht offensives in March, April and May 1918, and the preparations for a possible German breakthrough to the channel ports. Subsequently, with the allied advances of the ‘Last Hundred Days’, he became considerably occupied by the hazards of dealing with delayed action mines and booby traps.
Aside from these tactical and strategic considerations, he recounts, by means of numerous humorous anecdotes, the personalities and work of the staff at GHQ, ranging from humble clerks and the misdemeanors of his batman to senior officers. He brings to life the exceptional endeavours of the often maligned senior staff and the individual characteristics of many senior staff officers who are otherwise but shadows in accounts of the Great War.
The editors have added extensive notes explaining and, on occasions correcting, Dixon’s accounts; these are illustrated with explanatory plans and diagrams along with photographs of many of the personalities he describes. The combination provides a very personal perspective of the conduct of the war at GHQ.