Lest we forget: SafeLane’s researchers discuss the ongoing impact of unexploded ordnance from WWI and WWII

The catastrophic devastation caused by bombing raids during WWI and WWII affected communities across Europe.

Air raids were so frequent and so intense in many locations that unexploded ordnance (UXO) and explosive remnants of war are still a threat to life to this day.

Lest we forget – it’s critical to remember the impact bombings had on civilian life.

SafeLane’s research department regularly reviews stories from the war as part of their efforts to fully comprehend the impact raids had on particular communities and locations.  The team works to create highly detailed UXO risk assessments for those planning intrusive works – such as construction and infrastructure clients.

It is critical that the research team builds a full understanding of a client’s site in order to understand whether there is a risk of encountering an unexploded bomb.  Through the course of their work, the team is often affected by the human stories they come across.

Here department members James Armstrong and Robert Cliff share some of the accounts that they have found particularly impactful and memorable:

James – this man’s account of his childhood during WWII truly shows how relaxed attitudes towards munitions were at the peak of the Battle of Britain and how easy it was to find them.

“I was once cautioned by the local policeman because I was seen by the postman to be pointing my dad’s Home Guard .303 rifle out of our roadside window. He didn’t know it, but I often tracked him laboriously pedalling his bike up Hall Road Hill imagining him to be a German soldier. I actually inserted the five-shot magazine into the rifle on one occasion….”

Today the consequences of being caught pointing a rifle at the postman would be very different! 

Rob:  One account of an air raid in Bournemouth sends chills down my spine every time I read it:

One Canadian airman, a body builder named Bud Abbott was identified only because of the size of his torso. Another body was blown clear of the building and recovered from the college clock tower opposite more than a week later when someone was sent to investigate why the seagulls were gathering there.’

Often when talking about the strategic bombing that occurring during the second world war the focus is on the devastation to infrastructure. Although horrifying, it is important we remember the impact bombs had on citizens and how these events became part of everyday life.

The account continues in a more positive vain:

In other accounts, one airman was blown out of a window only to have his descent cushioned by the hot air generated by the blast. He landed on the pavement, dusted himself off and disappeared back into the building to help his stricken comrades.’

The bravery, stoicism and camaraderie of people during this time is remarkable.

The researchers use personal accounts to ensure they have a complete understanding of the impact bombings had on a site.

Explosive remnants of war (ERW) still pose significant risks to those who may uncover them, especially construction workers. In reviewing anecdotal records, the research department ensures they have a continued awareness of how unexploded ordnance (UXO) could impact civilians today.

If you’re planning intrusive works, contact the team for advice today.