AW BOMBS- A DANGEROUS WEAPON IN UNTRAINED HANDS
The home guard of Britain, arising from a call to duty in 1940 to join the local defence volunteers consisted largely of untrained civilians with little or no military training. Aside from the basic instructions issued to the new recruits, there were also Lance-Corporal Jones types who published pamphlets for training purposes. We show a couple of these below, which give the basic instruction of how they were supposed to be used, but with no German tanks to actually use them against in anger, one has to imagine what they would have been thrown against.
From “Manual of Grenades” compiled by Major J.I Cowan, the following information concerning the Albright and Wilson grenades is given on pages 36-37.
A more technical description is contained in Chapter 7 of “Grenades for the Home Guard” by Lieut. E.W Manders, “batallion weapon training officer of the home guard.” As an introduction to grenades in general he notes:
“A great deal of training is required to give a man confidence in the weapon and as much “live” throwing practice should be given as possible. Drill movements are invaluable at the commencement of training, but after a period, the men should be allowed to develop any particular style that suits them; also they should practice throwing from all positions.”
The decision to issue SIP grenades was clearly a hasty decision soon regretted by the authorities, whereby their existence caused more potential damage to property, the environment and human and animal life, largely by the over exuberance of individuals to look like a professional military outfit who trained and gave demonstrations, but did little else.
Records from the national archives reveal that many obsolete AW bombs were assigned to The Fire Guard for training purposes in how to deal with German phosphorus incendiary bombs.
An example of the threat that German phosphorus bombs posed, and information about the toxic content they contained is detailed in the leaflet below.
ENVIRONMENTAL PERSISTENCE AND DAMAGE.
As the threat of invasion lessoned but the increase in bombing was imminent, this may have been a prudent use of the devices, yet concern about the safety of the grenades is mentioned frequently in the Kew Archive.
One of the first documented incidents involving poisoning of animals as a result of the use of artillery ranges with white phosphorus incendiary’s is recorded in a study published by STEWART AND LYLE IN 1930 concerning sheep. It is noted in this study that “after the ingestion of toxic doses of phosphorus, symptoms of illness in the sheep may be delayed for two or more days, and that the changes found on post mortem examination were in the liver and large intestines.”
ADAMS, DAVIES AND ASHTON in 1942 in the ministry of Agriculture journal demonstrates how the SIP grenades were similarly a source of exposure to animals. Though the effects of the AW bombs are played down to some extent, the matter cannot have escaped the attention of those “top brass” in command. AW bombs were a threat to livestock, the environment and human health, especially if people ate animals that had grazed in fields contaminated by the exuberant activities of the local Home Guard. The threat to aquatic life, including fish given the ludicrous instruction to “store the containers under water” appears to have been largely ignored.
Both of these studies can be read below.
The 1942 study confirms the environmental persistence of white phosphorus in both herbage and soil, though the conclusions drawn concerning the true death of the bullocks appears to be extremely convenient, given that gastro- enteritis is reported- one of the main symptoms of white phosphorus poisoning. BOTTOM LINE- THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT KNEW THESE WEAPONS WERE A THREAT, AND A FINAL SOLUTION WAS NEEDED TO DESTROY STOCKS OF THEM.
The following letter from the National Archives is a further source of internal disquiet about the danger posed to troops at road blocks by the lasting white phosphorus in the toxic weapons. “I am making this report as I think it should be gone into by the higher authorities, as if we use AW bombs at our road blocks it means that our own troops passing along that road 3 weeks afterwards are running agreat risk of contamination.”
The National Archives WO 199/189. Reproduced by permission to http://www.whatliesbeneathrattlechainlagoon.org.uk/
Threlfall in “100 years of phosphorus making” on page 200 offers a damning insight into what both they the company and the authorities knew concerning such contamination of surrounding farmland areas where animals could graze. Recalling how the Christopherson’s company had been dissolved by AW, he notes the move of sales staff to Park Hall Kidderminster.
“The proximity of Park Hall to the works at Oldbury was a great advantage, and the much reduced sales staff was able to carry out its work satisfactorily under difficult war-time conditions.2
2” The chairman also allowed the Research Department to carry out experiments with incendiary bombs in one of his fields. The evicted pigs found on their return some yellow phosphorus and ate it. Much to the regret of the sales staff the resulting pork was declared to be unfit for human consumption.”
But how many people or animals who did come into contact with AW bombs were poisoned by the white phosphorus they contained, unknowingly?