Iron Harvest

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by msr, Oct 8, 2006.

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  1. msr

    msr LE

    The iron harvest is the annual harvest of unexploded ordnance, barbed wire, shrapnel balls, bullets and congruent trench supports collected by Belgian and French farmers after ploughing their fields. The harvest generally applies to the material from The Great War which is still found in large quantities across the former Western Front.

  2. Since you raise this topic, please note that souvenir hunting from the fields is illegal and dangerous. Some contaon explosives and some contain persistent chemical agents - Mustard gas.

    There is a story going around that a farmer in the Yres area received mustard gas burrns after sitting down on a tree stump after cutting the tree down. This may be an urban legend to frighten sense into the tourists. Anyone out there know of the oirigin of this story?
  3. I heard a similar story except it was near Saltau every year the locals were getting ill around this time of year for some reason. When it was investigated it turned out that stocks of chemical weapons or shells had been buried at the end of WW1 and the farmers tractors had been catching them whilst plowing the fields. It was just enough to relase small amounts into the air
  4. Some years back the proprietor of the Hill 60 cafe quite properly got into a spot of bother for flogging school kids odds and sods.

    Isn't disposing of decaying munitions a particulalry rarefied form of that general brave, dark art? I seem to remember reading somewhere that the REs do the old British WW2 stuff whereas RLC do the modern stuff.

    The risks are real. Wasn't a Sandhurst lecturer found tragically dead at his desk after examining a proff from a WW2 desert battlefield which went off???
  5. There was a tv programme on a while ago - I think the main focus was to do with finding the bodies of the fallen - but upon discovering gas shells they had to evacuate. It was mentioned that every year they dig up more gas shells than they can currently dispose of. It's an incredible legacy.
  6. There is a guy in France who now has one arm, after trying to get the explosive out of a shell
  7. I went to the 'Valley of Death' (just outside of Trun) a number of years ago,the Gendarmes had sealed off the road, and were recovering what looked like stick grenades (with the stick part absent) from a stream. I later learned this is a fairly common ocurance.

    I've read about a Brit who lives in Normandy who seems to make a living through 'battlefield archaeology'.
  8. The risks are real. Every few years people are killed by WW1 UXO. About 10 years ago a Belgian EOD team vanished in ablack cloud when their van full of recovered UXO functioned. Howeverthe disposal of conventional munitions generally isn't that difficult (compared to, say, IEDD).

    In UK RE deal with enemy air dropped bombs & British pipe mines etc. Air dropped British stuff is RAF territory, while naval stuff or stuff inbelow the high water mark is for RN. Any land service stuff of any era (ie most of what crops up) is dealt with by RLC, who also do most of the terrorist stuff (IEDD).
  9. If you`re ever around Albert, have a look around the museum situated in tunnels underneath the church. The museum shop has a lot of items dug up from the battlefield, remains of helmets, rifles and shell casings etc. I found it all a bit spooky, and although interesting to look at, I wouldn`t like it hanging on my wall at home. I remember going to Cobbaton Combat museum several years ago and they had a dug up SMLE which had the bayonet fixed, bolt open and an empty mag , struck me that it could`ve been some poor chaps last stand... :?
  10. Last time I was at Vimy Ridge, I remember seeing areas surrounding the trench exhibition roped off, with suitable warnings as to what lay ahead, would you believe some people still try to duck under in order to get a 'closer look' 8O
  11. re. comment about SMLE

    In many battles early on troops went into action with bayonet fixed and no rounds loaded or chambered - as it was believed they would waste their ammunition, they would hit their own and it was far scarier for them to be mown down by machine guns pulling a war face.

    There are many instances of battles fought at Gallipoli and on the Western Front where this was common practice - so worst of all the owner of that SMLE may never even have been given a chance at his last stand.
  12. Interesting bit of info, thanks. The sight of that rusty old rifle has stuck with me for years :(
  13. Vimy Ridge is roped off to prevent erosion by the masses. (talk to the Canadian students who act as guides there. If it's quiet get them to show you their photo albums which are kept in the Visitors' Centre) Twenty-five years ago you could wander at will, same for Beaumont Hammel. The warnings are more for 'Nanny State' reasons. Most of the major sites have been swept of the more obvious surface remains, but some are still littered with the debris of war, Delville Wood in particular, where school parties have been known to turn up in the cafe clutching rusting Mills grenades. Any drive along the narrow lanes of the Somme will find piles of live ordinance awaiting collection and in Belgium, near Plugstreet Wood Cemetery, I witnessed a gas shell fuming away in the middle of a field, causing quick exit upwind!
  14. I understand that one of the great Mines planted under the ridge at Messines in WW I is still there and that the local farmer under who's land it lies just continues with his daily life "trusting" that it will not explode.
    I also believe that one other went off in a Thunderstorm in the 50s.
  15. I saw a thread on this very subject on the Great War Forum earlier: