WW2 Treasure Hunters - The Bomb Factory Revisited
The seventh episode of WW2 Treasure Hunters, ‘Bomb Factory’, examined the use of a country estate by the military for use as an ammunition depot. Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC), No 32 ammunition sub-depot to be precise. We recovered an astonishing number of finds during filming, but a site is never truly ‘cleared’ of finds, so I always suspected there was more to find. A quick call to the Squire last week, and I was off to search for more relics from WW2.
We know the RAOC used the site to dispose of WW2 ordnance after the war had ended, but the area of the disposal pit was hip high in crops when we filmed, which meant we hardly covered any ground at all. I was sure there was more evidence of the ordnance that was disposed of in the pit, so I waited for the crops to be harvested before returning. I wasn’t disappointed!
We had found evidence of the RAOC disposing of 40mm Bofors shells, so I was looking for more of these. I found another ten 40mm cartridge case bases in a very short space of time, which further supported the location of the disposal pit. All WW2 dated, and all blown apart in a big explosion.
One thing you may have only very briefly seen in the episode, if at all, (and only the really eagled eyed among you will have seen this in Suggs’s hand, as we didn’t even mention it in the episode!), was a No. 3 fuze from a British Mk V anti-tank mine. This confirmed the use of the disposal pit for the disposal of lots of different bits of ordnance and, on my return visit when the crops had gone, I found plenty more.
All show signs of being involved in a big explosion and all were completely inert, devoid of any explosive material. So they blew up 40mm shells and Mk V anti-tank mines!
Not content with finding plenty more evidence of the disposal pit, I went back to the area that used to be the front lawn of the house. We had found lots of cap badges and cartridge cases in this area, and I wanted to see if there was anything else that may give us a clue as to what the RAOC personnel used to set off the charges in the disposal pit. I reasoned that, if the grassed area contained finds, the woods next to it would also. Again, my hunch paid off and I recovered a large number of relics, four of which showed what the soldiers were using to initiate the explosives in the disposal pit.
During filming we found a few of these items. These have the grand title of ‘service igniter, safety fuze, percussion, Mk III’. They contained a firing pin and a tiny percussion cap. Pulling on the safety wire releases the firing pin, which hits the percussion cap, which sets of the detonator that is fitted, just prior to use. A great find, but this was nothing new. However, the next three finds were!
Here we have two No 9 L-Delay switches. These were what is commonly called ‘time pencils’, which would initiate an explosion, a set time after being armed. They contain a firing pin and spring, held in place by a lead alloy wire. The safety pin is removed, which then allows the spring to take the lead alloy under tension. After a set period of time, the lead alloy would snap, releasing the firing pin which would then hit the percussion cap, initiating the explosion. Again, these contain nothing but a firing pin and tiny percussion cap.
And here's a ‘switch, No 1, pull, Mk 1’ and is similar to the others in that it is basically just a firing pin and small percussion cap. Pull the pin from the switch and the firing pin releases, striking the percussion cap and hence initiating the explosives.
All of these are completely safe and legal to possess, but provide more evidence of what the RAOC was using to set the explosions off! So we now have much more evidence from the dump pit area, and evidence of what they used to initiate the explosions. I will be presenting my findings to the local archaeological society mid-May 2018. I’m sure they’ll be pleased with what I have uncovered about the history of Garendon Park during WW2.