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It will Take Another 500 Years to Clear Somme Battlefields of Bombs

1910s | January 24, 2017

In 2016 alone, bomb disposal experts collected 25 tons of ammunition in the Somme battlefields. They say it will probably take another 500 years to eliminate it all before the area is safe.

"Since the start of 2016 we've been called out 300 times to dispose of 25 tons of bombs.", a statement from Michel Colling, the head of the Amiens bomb disposal unit that deals with the Somme.

Somme Battlefield 1

He also said, "As soon as you start turning the earth up, you find them. At this rate, we have another 500 years to clear the area, so the work is far from over."

It was after French farmers kept on handing out shell cases, fuses, and even discarded guns encrusted with soil to visitors from the UK.

Somme Battlefield 2

Mr. Colling added, ‘We find all kinds of devices. The biggest to date was an eight hundred kilo, 15in British bomb at Thiepval, and the smallest are the grenades.

"We have accidents quite frequently. The rotor blades from tractors can set them off, though the farmers are generally protected as they are inside the vehicle and above ground.

"There are accidents with collectors who want to empty munitions either for their collections or to sell them.

"Also, when trenches are built on construction sites, these can set off devastating explosions. All the towns around here have been built on ground teeming with bombs."

A 76-year-old farmer named Claude Samain, plows land by Basin Wood, near Serre – which was among the British front line on July 1st 1916 and holds the Somme's largest cemetery – mentioned: ‘We find shells every time we turn the earth over for potatoes or sugar beet.'

He added: "When I was a lad we used to plough with a horse and cart so were much nearer the soil to spot shells or guns. Now a lot of it gets turned over by our tractors.", as he was extending an empty shell to the Telegraph.

Mr Samain, along with his son, segregate the shells and grenades into two piles - one disarmed, another dangerous. For months, they would slumber in the open air until bomb disposal teams arrive to dispose them.

"I'm quite happy to hand over such souvenirs to the British,’ stated Mr Samain. ‘These shells are part of their history."

He recalls the farm when he was still a boy in the 1930s, and "bodies were still being dug up".

Peter Jones, who operates the Single Step battlefield tours company, mentioned that mortar created to slaughter soldiers during the First World War have "killed plenty of people since the 1918 Armistice".

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