UNEXPLODED ORDNANCE & DANGEROUS FINDS By Rod Scott

With the passing of the last soldier to serve in the front lines during the First War (WWI), and the daily lessening of those who can recount the Second (WWII), the discipline of ‘Conflict Archaeology’ is becoming both more important and popular all the time. However, the archaeology of the more recent conflicts has caused us to re-evaluate some of the techniques normally employed on archaeological sites. Not least amongst these is the finding of ammunition. This not only applies to the battlefields of France and Belgium, but also to the Home Front. Britain was attacked during both wars from the air, and, to a lesser degree, by surface ships. In addition, various defences were constructed, especially during WWII where the defence building project was massive. The whole of the UK was turned into one big training area, with often surprising training taking place where least expected; for example the WWI Grenade Training School on Clapham Common. As archaeologists however, ammunition is a bonus find. Even the simplest item can hold all sorts of usable information. An example of this was found in June ‘09 during excavations on Shooters Hill in South East London. Find EFP 09 (23) is described as copper alloy and lead items possibly .303in Bullets (See Fig 1).

Fig 1. Four .303 in Rounds. What can be discerned from these items? The bullet shape indicates a Mark (Mk) VI round, and the ferrous metal around the lower third of them demontrates that they were in a charger (a clip of 5 rounds). They were located in a firmly identified WWII layer of stratigraphy, identified by any number of other dateable items. Looking at the base of the cases however tells another story. As with coins for example, the stamping on the base can tell us a lot of things! These are marked ‘C’, ‘B’ and ‘VI’ (See Fig 2 below).

Fig 2. Cartridge Case Base Stampings

What do these symbols mean? The ‘B’ is the manufacturer Birmingham Metals & Munitions Company Ltd (BM&M). The ‘C’ indicates that the propellant used inside them is Cordite and the ‘VI’ that they are Mk 6. Several things can be extrapolated from this. BM&M was formed in Birmingham 1897 and purchased a new factory in Waltham Abbey in 1907. The round shown above is pre-1907, as it still has the ‘C’ for cordite, and a year stamp was introduced in 1907. That does not preclude that it may be from Waltham Abbey, and the manufacturers were using up older stocks of cartridge cases. At the most, that would stretch to the first part of 1908. We also know that the Mk VI was brought into service in 1904, replaced by the Mk VII in 1910, so we have a date of between 1904 and 1910 (pretty good in normal archaeology!). But why were they found in a WWII context? At the beginning of WWII, the Home Guard were issued with, or used, any weaponry they could get hold of. This would include the older patterns of .303 rifle and accordingly, their ammunition. As we know the Shooters Hill area is the scene of some quite intense Home Guard activity, it is reasonable to suppose that these rounds came from an Home Guard source, being discarded for an unknown reason. All of these items were handed over to the correct authorities for disposal, and it has to be stated that under NO circumstances should any ammunition or suspected ammunition be handled by anyone except suitably trained, qualified and authorised personnel. In all cases where these personnel are not on site then the authorities should be informed by the fastest possible means.

*If you find unexploded ordnance please call the police immediately and DO NOT touch.

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