Great War explosives dump is unearthed by Belgian farmer

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The Independent Online

More than 80 years after the end of the First World War Belgian bomb disposal experts have defused a stock of about 1,100 British explosives after a farmer's tractor struck a mortar bomb in a ploughed field.

More than 80 years after the end of the First World War Belgian bomb disposal experts have defused a stock of about 1,100 British explosives after a farmer's tractor struck a mortar bomb in a ploughed field.

The bomb did not explode but the discovery is a reminder of the deadly legacy of the First World War beneath the fields of Flanders. Over each of the past two years in Belgium, one person has been killed by First World War explosives. From 1979 to 1998, 18 civilians lost their lives and 35 were wounded. In 1986 four men from Belgium's 82-strong bomb disposal team died trying to defuse munitions. Last year, 175 tons of old explosives, some involving poison gas, were made safe.

The latest find is thought to have been a dump in a "switching yard", probably at the end of the railway line from Dunkirk. The cache was discovered by Noel St Germain, a 52-year-old farmer from Poperinge near Ypres, who is lucky to be alive. He was crossing the rain-drenched cornfield in his tractor when the vehicle sank deeper than normal into the mud and hit the bomb.

Army disposal officers discovered a stock of 3-inch mortar ammunition. The shells were not fused but the experts said they were still dangerous.

Captain Luc Moerman, of the Belgian army, said: "The farmer was fortunate because over the years explosives become unstable. If you plough through there is always a risk a spark could cause a reaction."

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