An amusing incident with an unexploded shell. Friday 28 June 2013

I had planned a working itinerary in France for 27th June to 18th July to incorporate my annual pilgrimage to the Somme (1st July commemorative ceremonies) and, as part of my joint research project with the University of Northampton, a drawing/painting expedition to the sites of the D-Day Landings in Normandy.

However, on 28th June I decided to snatch a day for a hasty survey of Messines Ridge in Flanders as part of the preparations for my exhibition of First World War Work at Stafford Art Gallery in 2014.

Exploring the area around the flooded mine crater at Spanbroekmolen I discovered a small concrete bunker, partly concealed by trees, undergrowth and brushwood.

13 28 June.  (LR) Messines. Entrance to small bunker Spanbrockmolen PhotoHaving made two studies of the exterior (see below left) I decided to collect overalls and helmet lamp from my van and wriggle through the (very) narrow entrance in order to make studies of the interior.

It was somewhat claustrophobic, approx 8ftx20ft (2.5mx6.0m) with very little headroom, probably about 4ft 6in (1.4 metres) at its highest point. The “floor” sloped away from the access at about 35 degrees having slowly filled over the years with detritus, soil, dead undergrowth and brushwood (plus, of course, the odd drinks can and plastic bottle)

13MesA4-01 (LR) 1.50pm 28 June 2013. Bunker entrance, Messines Ridge13MesA4-02 (LR) 1.50pm 28 June 2013. Bunker interior, Messines Ridge

I then set about making the small drawings of the interior (above right).

Having completed the top one, sketching the view (as it were east to west) and taken the photograph (below, left) I scrabbled my way across to the other end of the bunker, sat on the sloping floor of brushwood and detritus.  With my drawing kit placed to my left, I made the lower drawing (as it were west to east) On its completion, I decided to take a photograph of myself making the drawing (just for the record)

Accordingly, I scrabbled back to the eastern end, balanced the camera on its mini tripod, set it on time delay and scrabbled hastily back to my previous drawing position, only to find that during all this scrabbling I had displaced the dry brushwood on which I had been sitting revealing an unexploded 18 pounder shell, complete with fuse.

Inside the bunker at Messines 13 28 June.  (LR) Messines. Shell in small bunker. Spanbrockmolen Photo

The photograph (above right) shows my drawing-kit box, the just-completed sketches and the previously brushwood-covered shell directly on top of which I had unwittingly been sitting for the for the previous 35 minutes!  Needless to say, having taken the shot, I proceeded to collect my equipment and vacate the worksite with slightly more alacrity than usual.

Obviously I went immediately to the nearby town of Ypres to report to the authorities the location of the shell which had probably been ploughed up in the adjacent field and dumped in the bunker by the farmer.