Recently as a family treat, I was given the DVD set of this series and I sat down on a quiet Saturday and gave my head to watching them all undisturbed (early morning to night) after first viewing it 34 years ago. The series chronicles the exploits of the fictional 97 Tunnelling Company which as a result of thousands of unexploded bombs (UXBs) in London during the Blitz has been made a bomb disposal unit.
As with all his fellow officers, Ash must for the most part learn the techniques and procedures of disarming and destroying the UXBs through experience, repeatedly confronted with more cunning and deadlier technological advances in aerial bomb fusing.
The series primarily featured military story lines, with a romantic thread featuring an inventor's married daughter, Susan Mount (Judy Geeson) with whom Ash falls in love, and other human interest vignettes. (en.wikipedia.org)
The programme was titled and partly based on the memoirs of Major A. B. Hartley, M.B.E, RE, Unexploded Bomb - The Story of Bomb Disposal, with episodes written by Hawkesworth and four screenwriters. The series was filmed during 1978. The core of the series relates how Brian Ash, a young lieutenant, assigned to a UXB unit in the early days of World War II engages in this frightening task. UXB (UneXploded Bomb) is the signal that an aerial bomb has not exploded.
Ash's job is to deactivate German bombs, some of which have fuses specifically designed to kill him. The series takes us through his maturation as an officer, a love story, and the stresses and strains of wartime on the civilians and military in England. (www.imdb.com)
Hitler's blitz has taken London by surprise. Hundreds of civilians have been killed, and each night thousands more are made homeless. The Royal Engineers are hastily assembled to combat this new and terrible menace, the hundreds of unexploded bombs which are threatening to paralyze the whole city. 'Danger UXB' follows Ash and his company as they risk their lives to deactivate the bombs, mines, and booby traps that threaten the civilian population. (www.pbs.org)
As the Nazis were manufacturing delayed-action bombs, Prime Minister Churchill said, "This is a new and damaging form of attack against us." Hence the story line. Over the years there have been other books and articles written on these brave people who stepped into the lurch, one of which I was recently given me which I read with much interest.
One False Move – the book
"One False Move – Bravest of the Brave – The Australian Mine Defusers in World War II" written by Robert Macklin published by Hachette, 2012. During World War II a small band of Australians volunteered to work defusing mines dropped in and around Britain. 'One False Move' is their untold story.
Combining incredible bravery with the precision of surgeons, they defused these lethal devices, often buried in residential areas, submerged in mud, or deep underwater – all at huge risk to their own lives. These mines were often booby-trapped.
Danger UXB story No 9 "Seventeen Seconds to Glory" is not that dissimilar to the above book "One False Move". In December 1941 Brian Ash helps Lieutenant Craik, an Australian in the Royal Navy, defuse a naval parachute mine designed to detonate just seventeen seconds after its timer mechanism starts.
Lieutenant Craik and three friends, all keen to join the Royal Australian Navy, were not admitted, so they sailed their own yacht from Sydney Harbour to Portsmouth, on the south coast of England. The British Naval authorities were somewhat impressed to say the least, admiring their sailing skills. All four were signed up into the Royal Navy and to Mine Defusing which surprised them not a little.
The UXB team was called out to this parachute mine which crashed through the rood of a house and settled onto the floor of the dining room. Brian Ash recognised it as a mine and called the Royal Navy to deal with it. The UXB team consisted of eight sappers a corporal and a sergeant whose job it was to dig, sometimes 20 feet or more 'til they exposed the unexploded bomb and then shored up the sides of the dig with timber. Then the officer would attempt to do his 'defusing' thing! Once defused the bomb was deemed safe and it would be catered off in their truck.
Only three of them
What surprised them was that when the Royal Navy limousine turned up, there was a single officer, a single rating and the driver. The question was put where was their team? This was the team came the answer. And it was, as these naval mines were parachuted down intended to land in the sea and explode as a ship came near bye. They landed all over the place.
Lieutenant Craik knew the mine type in which were once pumped with a solution to kill the detonation devise, now replaced with a small pin like mechanism that stopped the 17 second denotation process. On this occasion as he attempted to pop in the spindle it fell to the floor and after a frantic search he found it and secured it into the mechanism with only a second or two to spare.
This was their life (Army and Navy) in those terrible years of bomb defusing. Churches were not exempt. In Episode 10 "Butterfly Winter" a church becomes front and centre for the team along with a very helpful Vicar who was immensely pleased with the team but who then conducted the funeral service of one of the sappers who was killed doing his duty.
Had the expertise of the science boffins not found ways for the bomb defusers to do their horrendous tasks, the story would have been very different as whole neighbourhoods' evacuations would have become more permanent.
In today's world its the land mines and IMD's which are creating this same havoc and the brave teams that find ways to clear such menaces. In many countries old land mines remain a terrible blight upon the country side and it's peoples. Moreover numerous Christian missions support the rehabilitation for such victims.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html