WWI grenade found among potatoes at chip factory

A World War I hand grenade found a perfect disguise in a shipment of potatoes sent to a Hong Kong chip factory. The potatoes were harvested in France where for four years artillery rained down on the fields of the Western Front in brutally futile attempts to gain a few inches of ground. Unexploded ordnance from the First World War is regularly churned up during agricultural work. This one was of German manufacture, weighs two pounds and is three inches in diameter, so the dimensions of a potato but much heavier.

According to military historian Dave Macri, the field where the potatoes were harvested was believed to contain a trench during the first world war.

“If it was covered in mud, the grenade was likely to have been left behind, dropped by soldiers there during the war, or left there after it was thrown [by enemies].

The ditch was then filled up and used as a growing field, and the explosive was tossed into the mix of harvested potatoes … and sent to Hong Kong.”

Whatever machine digs up potatoes for the global market can’t tell the difference between a bomb and a bomb-shaped root vegetable, so it went on its merry way to Hong Kong. By some stroke of luck, none of the jostling, conveying, dumping and stevedoring it experienced on its long journey woke it up from its long slumber. It was only when it arrived at Calbee Four Seas Company’s chip factory that its sorting machines detected that one of the potatoes was actually a bomb caked in rust and mud.

The University of Hong Kong professor said the grenade could still be dangerous even if it was not triggered. “If you’re standing close, within five feet, you could get wounded or even killed [if the device somehow went off], but it’s not the kind of thing that can bring down a whole building.

“But chances are, the weapon was never armed because to ignite it, you have to withdraw the safety pin and release a lever. And since it didn’t go off, it was probably never triggered,” Macri added.

Hong Kong firefighters and police were called in to disable and remove the device safely. On Saturday, explosive experts used a high-pressure water firing technique to detonate the grenade outside the factory. They did us the courtesy of recording the event.