Ben Jackson · The Bermondsey Bomb
A five-foot, one-thousand-pound unexploded Second World War bomb was found on Monday on a building site near where I live in Bermondsey. Several streets were closed, causing traffic chaos, and 1200 residents were evacuated. None of the police I spoke to knew how long we would have to leave for: we were told to prepare for ‘at least 48 hours’. In the event, I was allowed to return to my flat at 9 p.m., but the police, wanting to speak about evacuation plans for the following morning, when the bomb was scheduled to be moved, hammered on my door three times between midnight and 7 a.m., when I finally gave up on sleeping and left the area.
The bomb was removed last night after an operation that lasted most of the day; this morning the army blew it up at a site in Kent. It's the latest of the World War II bombs that have regularly been dug up in the UK, mostly in London, Plymouth and other areas most affected by the Blitz. It is thought that at least 10 per cent of bombs dropped during the war failed to detonate; about 15,000 unexploded ordnances, most of them much less notable than the Bermondsey bomb, were found in construction sites in the UK between 2006 and 2009 alone. In June 2008, for example, a 2200-lb bomb was found in Bow in East London on a site that was being cleared for construction for the Olympics. It was so large that at first it was thought 40,000 people would have to be evacuated. In the end, the evacuation was much smaller, but an air exclusion zone disrupted planes from Heathrow and City Airports for 24 hours.
The website bombsight.org shows the number and location of bombs dropped on London during the war. Zoom out on the map and it’s staggering. There are so many bombs left unexploded that the Economist cites the time and effort involved in removing them as a reason why building in London is so expensive. Still, that’s not a great worry in the scheme of things. One of the problems with unexploded ordnance is that over time the detonator and the main charge can deteriorate, making them increasingly dangerous. A bomb of about the same size as that found in Bermondsey detonated in Göttingen in June 2010, killing three of the experts attempting to disarm it. In Egypt, about 23 million mines and bombs still litter the desert, the remnants of World War II and several conflicts with Israel. Between 1982 and 2004, around 9000 people were killed or injured there; people there refer to the desert minefields as the Devil’s Garden. Laos was left with 75 million unexploded ordnances after the end of the Vietnam War. Between that time and 2008, an estimated 20,000 people were killed or injured as a result of their belated explosions, 40 per cent of them children. In Vietnam itself, the figure is more like 105,000, and the government estimates the clean-up will continue for another hundred years.