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French government “démineurs” working for the Département du Déminage still hunt for poisonous, volatile, and/or explosive munitions and recover about 900 tons every year. Sometimes these Ordnance Disposal Specialists (ODS) will receive a call from a farmer whose plow uncovered a shell. They will go to the field, carefully pack it into a specially made truck and haul it with other shells to a special facility on the french coast. These shells are carefully placed on pallets and moved to the tidal flats. Once the water comes in and covers the shells, the piles of ancient explosives are blown up safely underwater.
The oldest unexploded ordnance found so far in France was left over from the time of Napoleon. In Belgium and place in France, many areas are still off-limits due to the lingering aftereffects of Mustard Gas. In London and Portsmouth England, ordnance from the second World War is still being uncovered. Most of the uncovered ordnance is found when renovations are taken down below street level. According to the Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA), from 2006 to 2009, over 15,000 items of ordnance were found in construction sites in the UK. Most notably, 1000 homes were evacuated in Plymouth in April 2009 when a Second World War bomb was discovered, and in June 2008 a 1000 kg bomb was found in Bow in East London.
The burden of Explosive Ordnance Disposal in the UK is split between Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal Officers, Royal Logistic Corps Ammunition Technicians in the Army, Clearance Divers of the Royal Navy and the Armourers of the Royal Air Force. The Metropolitan Police is the only force not to rely on the Ministry of Defense, although they generally focus on terrorist devices rather than unexploded ordnance and will often call military teams in to deal with larger and historical bombs.
Currently used training areas, such as Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, also contain UXO. The Central Impact Area has been used by the Royal Artillery since the beginning of the 20th century. The percentage of live UXO to inert practice rounds is probably quite low, but it is impossible to distinguish between the two until they are uncovered. Some rounds will lie near the surface, some 10m down in the chalk. Because of its use it remains untouched by modern intensive farming and is thus part of the last chalk grassland in the UK (and probably Europe) and the whole area is designated as an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). Additionally the area also contains great numbers of archeological sites, which although occasionally damaged by impact, are for the most part intact. Should at some future date the army decide to stop training, and give public access, to clear the area would take hundreds of years, cost millions of pounds and destroy both the SSSI and the archaeology. It will thus remain an Out of Bounds area for time immemorial. Even cutting of scrub to stop invasion of the grass lands to retain its SSSI condition has to be carried out in an armoured mine-clearing tractor fitted with cutting flails that pass over the surface (not into it as with mine clearance) and if as often happens in dry summers, it catches fire, it has to be left to burn out (often shells will explode if near the surface) and the unit causing the fire has to stay and provide fire watchers to ensure the fire does not spread outside the impact area.
The United States has never been invaded on a scale equivalent to Two World Wars, and a Napoleonic Campaign. There were many other conflicts during the history of Europe, but the United States has been spared. The only unexploded ordnance found outside designated impact areas have been where Civil War and Revolutionary Battles were fought.
Europe, on the other hand, is pocked with ordnance. Even though the French go to fields of known Battle, the greatest bulk of explosives is found in farmers fields. The démineurs have found the older farmers, the ones who lived through the wars, are not afraid to pick up the rounds and move them out to the road where they set them next to fences. The farmers will then make a call and tell them where the rounds could be found. All the lecturing to these farmers make no difference because they have lived through the worse life could throw at them. The response from the farmers equates to “C’est la guerre”
In our day-to-day, with all the fussing and fighting which is going on, we should be grateful when we cross an open field there is not an unexploded artillery shell waiting to be stepped on. When a building is being renovated in a major city, there are no 1,000 lbs “block busters” unearthed.
In that respect we are lucky. Now if we can just get rid of the obstructionists….