Hi, I’m Lucy Alexander-Fuller from DIO’s Explosive Ordnance Clearance (EOC) team.
I recently found myself on Whitford Sands, on the Gower Peninsula, in Wales, where on an overcast Friday morning, the weather did not look overly promising at 10.00am.
There had been torrential downpours of rain all morning and the sky was a darkening shade of grey. We heard on the grapevine that Glastonbury festival was already turning in to a mud bath and all assumed that our day of filming for the BBCs weekly Countryfile programme was going to be a rather wet, windy and soggy affair.
Countryfile and bomb clearance
However, as the TV crew arrived on to the beach at around 11.00 am the skies started to clear and the sun decided to shine on our day after all. Waterproofs were quickly ditched and liberal amounts of sunscreen smeared over the faces of all involved. The crew comprised the producer, an assistant, the soundman, cameraman and Matt Baker, presenter for The One Show and Countryfile.
Matt was bounding around and was visibly very excited at the prospect of hunting for bombs on the beach! Firstly, of course, we all had to undergo a safety briefing and then the fun part could begin. Matt was filled in on the history of the site by Lt Col Olly Alexander, Commanding Officer of the Royal Navy’s Southern Diving Group. He was then brought over to me, as the representative from DIO’s EOC team, to learn how to locate the potential explosive ordnance beneath the ground.
Surveying the sands
I explained to Matt that the EOC team had been to Whitford Sands a few weeks earlier to scan the beach. We did this with a towed array magnetometer looking for anomalies, highlighting several as potential items of ordnance. The exact coordinates of each anomaly had been entered on to a hand-held GPS system and Matt was shown how to use the GPS to locate target on the beach.
Once Matt had located the target the Royal Navy moved in to dig, locate and identify the target, which was recovered from the ground; however, to the untrained eye it did not at first appear to be anything of interest. It was some 30cm long and bore more resemblance to a grimy rock with cockles attached to it than a World War Two bomb.
This disguise did not fool the Navy, who identified that it was likely to be an explosive projectile which was covered with a large amount of cementing material which had, over time, attached to the object buried in the sands. The Southern Diving Group made preparations to carry out a small controlled explosion in order to remove the concretion and make a positive identification of the item lying beneath it.
By this time, Ellie Harrison, one of Countryfile’s other leading presenters had arrived at Whitford Sands and this seemed like a good time to break for a late lunch.
Ellie’s arrival at the beach seemed to add a touch of glitz and glamour to the proceedings and she lifted everyone’s spirits even more as she casually introduced herself to all the Navy guys and chatted away.
The Big Bang
The target recovered from the beach turned out to be a 17lb WW2 projectile. The safest method of disposing of these items of ordnance is to conduct a demolition on the beach. This was set up and then the whole team on the beach was asked to move back behind the sand dunes in anticipation of the explosion.
With this, the climax to this episode of Countryfile – due to be screened on Sunday 13 July - was filmed with Matt and Ellie pushing the red button and watching on in awe as the bomb exploded on the beach and the subsequent bang echoed around the dunes.
So, with the sun still shining, everyone packed up their things and made preparations to be on their way and deal with Friday afternoon traffic. A fantastic day was had by all and, for me at least, future jobs out on site are going to have a lot to live up to!