Bernie Fahey, No. 4/1423, Tunnelling Company, New Zealand Engineers. Killed in action, 19 April 1917.
Born in Cregboy, near Galway in Ireland, in 1890 to parents Richard and Ellen, Bernie Fahey fought for the British Empire in the First World War while his brother fought for Irish independence. Little is known of Bernie’s early life and childhood in Ireland, but in his early twenties he decided to move to New Zealand. War broke out in August 1914 and the following year Bernie – then working as a labourer in Kaupokonui, South Taranaki – decided to sign up.
Bernie first tried to enlist in May 1915, but his medical examination revealed he suffered from arthritis. He was declared medically unfit and discharged from service. He was not deterred, however, and re-enlisted later that year. This time the tall, dark-featured Bernie was deemed fit, with the medical examiner noting that he had an ‘excellent physique’.
Bernie left New Zealand in December 1915 as a sapper with the Tunnelling Company and arrived in England in early 1916. According to family sources, Bernie probably met up with his brother Martin before he was sent to France. Martin was reportedly then involved with the Irish Volunteers and would later join the Irish Republican Army before drowning in 1923 while escaping a firefight during the Irish Civil War.
As a member of the Tunnelling Company, Bernie spent most of his war near the town of Arras in northern France. The company engaged in mine warfare with the Germans before working on extending the existing tunnels and caverns under the town of Arras in preparation for a planned offensive. During this time Bernie was promoted to lance-corporal. Late in 1916 he wrote home that it was ‘very wet here at present with cold November winds’. He wished he could get away from the monotony of war for a few days.
On 19 April 1917 Bernie was part of a group working on a section of road near Arras when he was killed by a German shell. He was 26 years old. In a letter to Bernie’s mother after his death, Bernie’s sergeant-major wrote: ‘Bernie was very well liked by officers and men … he was a very brave strong fellow and all ranks join with you in your very sad bereavement’. Bernie is buried in the Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery in Arras. He and the men of his company are remembered by the memorial to the tunnellers in Waihī.
Bernie Fahey to his mother, 2 November 1916 (letter).
Sergeant-Major Thomas Patrick Walsh to Mrs Fahey, 20 April 1917 (letter).
Rebecca Stiffe, 'Students shed new light on fallen Galway hero', Connacht Tribune, 21 October 2015.
J. C. Neill (ed.), The New Zealand Tunnelling Company 1915–1919, Whitcombe & Tombs Limited, Auckland, 1922.
 Bernie Fahey to his mother, 2 November 1916.
 Sergeant-Major Thomas Patrick Walsh to Mrs Fahey, 20 April 1917.