Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Wednesday, 16 April 2014
What could possibly go wrong?
When I was a kid, I had a bit of a thing about old, WW2 military equipment, and my brother acquired an old Mills hand grenade for me.
I eventually swapped it for something worth about 0.5 pence in today's money, and I have been kicking myself ever since.
This is why I bought another old grenade today, when I saw it in a friend's shop. I don't really want one, it's just that I programmed myself to find them attractive when I was about 10 years old.
I saw it yesterday when I walked into the empty shop, quite close to some 17th century carved wood panels which I think I might also buy. It was sitting on a shelf in the half dark, but - like I said - I am programmed to find them attractive.
I picked it up and noticed that the spring-held handle and firing-pin were missing, so I gingerly unscrewed the base plug to see what I could see. It came away quite easily, and there was no fuse and detonator to worry about - I would have had 4 seconds to get rid of it if I had seen a wisp of smoke.
Over 70 million of these things were made between 1915 and 1972, so it is quite surprising that this was only one of a few intact ones I have come upon since the early 1960s.
I heard a noise in the back of the shop, so I put the bomb on the desk and walked to the end of a dim corridor to find a half-open door. I shouted, "COOEY!", and the woman who was in the small room let out an ear-splitting scream. She had not heard me come in five minutes previously, and so she frightened me as much as I frightened her.
When we had calmed down, I said I would leave a note for the antique dealer, then I took one last look at the grenade and left.
This morning I went back to the shop and took away the grenade. Once at my workshop, I thought I would take a little peek inside the explosive compartment, just in case.
When these bombes were made, the explosive was poured into a small hole in the top side and left to set. The fuses and detonators were always stored in a different box, for obvious reasons. The hole is filled with a small, threaded plug with a screw slot in it, but - try as I might - I could not shift it. Somebody has obviously tried to unscrew it in the past, and - ominously - they were also unsuccessful.
I unscrewed the base again and gave the inside a little sniff. The smell was very strange, and not what you would think a rusty bit of old cast-iron should smell like, so I was dutifully suspicious. I screwed the base plug back in and looked up the ingredients used to make a Mills Bomb on the net.
Well, it is basically TNT with some more volatile additives, plus wax to make it pour easily and set into a nice lump inside the shrapnel casing. Nowhere did it tell me how this mix is affected by age, nor did it tell me if it becomes unstable through sweating and liable to go off on impact, rather than with a detonator as it would have when new. Better get inside it, I thought, and if I find anything, I will harmlessly steam it out.
In any event, with all these question marks, I was not going to bring it home to our compact but adorable city apartment for H.I. to admire, without the questions being answered.
So I have left it in the workshop with the screw thread soaking in some WD 40, in the hope that it will be free enough to unscrew in the morning.
If this fails, I have ruled out heating the casing of the bomb with a flame to make it expand from the plug a little, and the only option I will have left is the use of an impact-screw-driver.
The way you use an impact screw-driver is to place the end in the slot, then hit it very hard with a steel hammer.
I am writing this post tonight just in case I am unable to write it tomorrow. The worst scenario is that I may be forced to get a voice recognition system instead of the keyboard for want of hands.
The best scenario is that I may never blog again, for want of breath.