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A century on from WW1, 100 years of work remains to clear munitions

Updated : October 30, 2018 02:30 PM IST

As the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One draws near next month, bomb disposal experts are still digging up munitions sunk in the killing fields of eastern France -- and it could be another 100 years before they are done.

In Vilosnes-Haraumont, where the River Meuse snakes north and west from Verdun, the German army dumped thousands of artillery shells into the river's slowly shifting waters after the battle of Mort Homme in 1916.

Last week a pair of scuba divers plunged into the chilly waters to tie ropes around dozens of shells buried in the river bed, before a crane dragged and carefully lifted a string of the rusted ordnance onto the grassy bank.

In one day's work, more than five tonnes of unexploded shells were dredged from the river, an unusually large haul.

In a normal year, the Metz Demining Centre says it collects between 45 and 50 tonnes of ordnance, and it estimates there are at least 250 to 300 tonnes still buried in the nearby rivers and rolling hills of eastern France.

For Guy Momper, the bomb clearance specialist overseeing the clear-up, it is a painstaking but essential task to protect people from ammunition that could still explode and return the French landscape to the way it was before the war.

A deminer from a bomb-disposal unit holds an unexploded shell recovered in a field in Jametz, close to WWI battlefields, near Verdun, France, October 24, 2018 before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
A deminer from a bomb-disposal unit holds an unexploded shell recovered in a field in Jametz, close to WWI battlefields, near Verdun, France, October 24, 2018 before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
Unexploded shells recovered in the Meuse River are seen on the bank at Sivry-sur-Meuse, close to WWI battlefields, near Verdun, France, October 24, 2018 before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
Unexploded shells recovered in the Meuse River are seen on the bank at Sivry-sur-Meuse, close to WWI battlefields, near Verdun, France, October 24, 2018 before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
Deminers from a bomb-disposal unit place in boxes unexploded shells recovered in the Meuse River at Sivry-sur-Meuse, close to WWI battlefields, near Verdun, France, October 24, 2018 before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
Deminers from a bomb-disposal unit place in boxes unexploded shells recovered in the Meuse River at Sivry-sur-Meuse, close to WWI battlefields, near Verdun, France, October 24, 2018 before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
A memorial for US soldier Henry Gunther, generally recognized as the last soldier killed in action in World War I just before the Armistice, is seen at Chaumont-Devant-Damvillers, close to WWI battlefields, near Verdun, France, October 24, 201 few days before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. Picture taken October 24, 2018. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
A memorial for US soldier Henry Gunther, generally recognized as the last soldier killed in action in World War I just before the Armistice, is seen at Chaumont-Devant-Damvillers, close to WWI battlefields, near Verdun, France, October 24, 201 few days before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. Picture taken October 24, 2018. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
Deminers from a bomb-disposal unit place in a box an unexploded shell recovered in the Meuse River at Sivry-sur-Meuse, close to WWI battlefields, near Verdun, France, October 24, 2018 before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
Deminers from a bomb-disposal unit place in a box an unexploded shell recovered in the Meuse River at Sivry-sur-Meuse, close to WWI battlefields, near Verdun, France, October 24, 2018 before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
A diver from a bomb-disposal unit gies up the surface an unexploded shell recovered in the Meuse River at Sivry-sur-Meuse, close to WWI battlefields, near Verdun, France, October 23, 2018 before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
A diver from a bomb-disposal unit gies up the surface an unexploded shell recovered in the Meuse River at Sivry-sur-Meuse, close to WWI battlefields, near Verdun, France, October 23, 2018 before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
A diver from a bomb-disposal unit looks at unexploded shells recovered in the Meuse River at Sivry-sur-Meuse, close to WW1 battlefields, France, October 24, 2018 before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
A diver from a bomb-disposal unit looks at unexploded shells recovered in the Meuse River at Sivry-sur-Meuse, close to WW1 battlefields, France, October 24, 2018 before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
A deminer of a bomb-disposal unit moves an unexploded shell recovered in the Meuse River at Sivry-sur-Meuse, close to WWI battlefields, near Verdun, France, October 23, 2018 before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
A deminer of a bomb-disposal unit moves an unexploded shell recovered in the Meuse River at Sivry-sur-Meuse, close to WWI battlefields, near Verdun, France, October 23, 2018 before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
A diver from a bomb-disposal unit holds underwater an unexploded shell recovered in Meuse river at Sivry-sur-Meuse, close to WWI battlefields, near Verdun, France, October 23, 2018 before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
A diver from a bomb-disposal unit holds underwater an unexploded shell recovered in Meuse river at Sivry-sur-Meuse, close to WWI battlefields, near Verdun, France, October 23, 2018 before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
Divers from a bomb-disposal unit look at an unexploded shell recovered in the Meuse River at Sivry-sur-Meuse, close to WW1 battlefields, France, October 24, 2018 before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
Divers from a bomb-disposal unit look at an unexploded shell recovered in the Meuse River at Sivry-sur-Meuse, close to WW1 battlefields, France, October 24, 2018 before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
A deminer from a bomb-disposal unit moves an unexploded shell recovered in the Meuse River at Sivry-sur-Meuse, close to WWI battlefields, near Verdun, France, October 23, 2018 before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
A deminer from a bomb-disposal unit moves an unexploded shell recovered in the Meuse River at Sivry-sur-Meuse, close to WWI battlefields, near Verdun, France, October 23, 2018 before the centennial commemoration of the First World War Armistice Day. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
Published : October 30, 2018 02:30 PM IST
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