Bringing your work home

An Australian man and his British colleague working to map unexploded bombs have been killed in an explosion at their home in Honiara, the capital of Solomon Islands.

Australian Trent Lee and Briton Stephen “Luke” Atkinson died when an unexploded ordnance is believed to have detonated shortly after 7.30pm on Sunday.

The blast, inside the men’s rented accommodation in Tasahe, in the west of the city, was felt more than five kilometres away: cries for help from inside brought rescuers and emergency services to the building.

The two men were employees of the NGO Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), which maps unexploded ordnance across Solomon Islands, working alongside the police bomb disposal unit.

A reader or two here has the military background to explain this. My initial reaction is that we are all told not to bring our work home with us…..

22 thoughts on “Bringing your work home”

  1. Are we to understand these two carted some kind of giant UXB back home with them? And then it went BOOM? If so a Darwin Award is in order.

  2. The letters NGO do make one suspicious. What exactly were they supposed to be doing”? The article says “mapping”. So you send a couple of lads off with a metal detector & if they get a positive they mark the position. Then the expert ordnance disposal bods come out & excavate, defuse, remove, detonate in situ, whatever. But NGO’s are the natural roosting ground of university grads… Or stupidity farming s it’s also known.

  3. Bloke in North Dorset

    Nothing about their age or relevant history seems odd, but given this I doubt either had any military background:

    “Several other unexploded bombs were found inside the apartment according to police inspector Clifford Tunuki. He said police did not know bombs were being brought back to a residential area and were “concerned that they decided to conduct explosive ordnance disposal operations within a residential area”.”

  4. The EOD unit would have just blown them up. These guys were apparently saving these bombs (or shells?) from being blown up, possibly to defuse them and boil out the explosive then sell the case. For an interesting bomb (Japanese, not US so much) you’d get a few hundred dollars. Trouble is you can’t safely defuse old ordnance.

  5. I have had a very frustrating morning searching for the guy and cannot find him, alas my memory is not what it was.

    Anyway, there was a well known academic military historian who used to collect ordnance from Flanders battlefields and store it in his shed ( I assume the ferry companies have rules against transporting this kind of stuff). He was killed when a shell he was trying to dismantle went off. So it’s not just the young and stupid…

  6. @Ottokring
    The Eurostar terminals in Paris and Brussels (I guess airlines assume it’s obvious) display prominent notices that you can’t take WW1 ‘mementoes’ through. And every month they find a few inside scanned luggage.

  7. I have some sympathy for them actually. Young men like collecting ordinance. If they had no training, well, not a lot of sympathy. But if it was a routine work accident? Well that is a bit sad.

    The father of a pretty girl I knew at university kept dangerous snakes. Really dangerous snakes. I bet they were more of a risk than WW2 ordinance. But he was willing to take the risk and I am willing to let him.

  8. Yes, however the snake bites you only (unless you let it escape), but exploding ordnance would likely take out bystanders too.

  9. @Ottokring
    Lived in Flanders, for a while. When ploughing, the farmers usually make a pile of things that went bang at the side of the field. When it gets big enough they sell for scrap. Mostly brass fuse-ring assemblies from the noses of shells. But there’s been a couple of wars fought over Flanders recently. So all sorts of things can turn up. RAF dropped thousands of tons trying to hit V1 sites. Never actually heard a farmer plough up a surprise… You would. It’s very flat. But it does happen.

  10. ” When ploughing, the farmers usually make a pile of things that went bang at the side of the field.”

    I last drove through Northern France about 25 years ago. Saw old shells piled by field gates next to the road. I believe the Frog Army used to collect them for ‘safe’ disposal…

  11. Honiara being on Guadalcanal, and the airport being Henderson Field as was, there’s an outside chance of finding a Japanese 14″ battleship shell. Not much chance of taking it home to your tent without anyone noticing.

  12. The Belgy farmers have to put them in “safe” storage ready for collection by the army, which usually means a small (sometimes padlocked ) cage outside their barns. Nearly every farm has a museum of some nature of memorabilia ploughed up from their fields.

    German towns are still frequently closed down due to WW2 bombs being uncovered during pipe or building works. These tend to be 500lb or more devices, need disarming on the spot and are often very hazardous, because the fuses are so knackered. There is a huge problem at the moment with undersea unexploded weapons : after the war shells, torpedoes, bombs etc were simply dumped in the North Sea off the Elbe and Ems estuaries or along the Baltic coast around Flensburg/Kiel/Luebeck. Trawlers, dredgers, deep draft container ships keeping on dragging them up.

  13. ” There is a huge problem at the moment with undersea unexploded weapons : after the war shells, torpedoes, bombs etc were simply dumped in the North Sea off the Elbe and Ems estuaries or along the Baltic coast around Flensburg/Kiel/Luebeck. ”

    Not unknown in UK waters:

    According to a 2008 survey, the wreck is at a depth of 15 m (49 ft), on average, and leaning to starboard. At all states of the tide, her three masts are visible above the water

    According to a survey conducted in 2000, by the United Kingdom Maritime and Coastguard Agency,[5] the wreck still held munitions containing approximately 1,400 tonnes (1,500 short tons) of TNT high explosive.

  14. These things can sit around for a long time. Local steam railway a few years ago found Victorian explosives in a cutting, left there from when it had been built, 125 years earlier.

  15. Ottokring, you remind me of a story my father told me (one of the few about the war).

    He was a B-24 pilot. After the war, a professor at his college in central Kentucky, was a German emigre. Dad cringed when the professor told them where he was from – Dad had bombed the town in the war.

    At the end of the class, he went up and apologized to the prof. “There was a war on.” In delightful broken English, the professor said that his town was never bombed.

    Uh oh. He and his flight dumped a bunch of destruction on somewhere. Somewhere they never knew where.

    If there is a point to this story, it is that there could be UXB all over western Europe, from Pyrenees to the Moskva. And from Imphal to Tokyo. And Oran to Cairo.

    Gamecock wouldn’t touch any ordnance that has taken a 75 year dirt nap.

  16. This does remind me of the bush fire tale I heard while working at Viccy Barracks. It seems there was blaze at some field firing range, and some of the local fire volunteers had turned up. The bloke in charge thought they could save a little gully from the flames. Fortunately there were some army blokes there, and they said ‘No, no, no.’ The fire went through the gully and up she went. Evidently a target for mortar practice.

    The poor firey went a bit white.

  17. My last year in the Canadian military was spent at the main Canadian military ammo depot at Camp Dundurn in Saskatchewan. Deliberately placed there because it was in the middle of nowhere, in the only portion of the province unsuitable for agriculture, and if it blew up, little to no collateral damage.

    There was also a large complex of ranges, from small arms up to artillery, and I spent several enjoyable hours helping the engineers blow up UXO. The Range Control people actually welcomed it when and bush or forest fire that broke out in certain areas, precisely BECAUSE it reduced the quantity of UXO, and fires in those certain areas were most emphatically NOT fought, for the reasons Boganboy outlines.

    For a fascinating read on the subject, particularly of leftover WWI UXO in Belgium and France, I cannot recommend enough Aftermath, The Remnants of War by Donovan Webster. Particularly the almost hereditary family involvement in the organization that does this in France.

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