Recovered toxic ordnance is handled and dismantled by personnel wearing full biochemical protection suits. Although the gas shells are now a century old their contents have lost none of their toxicity.
The shell with its toxic and explosive contents is destroyed under highly controlled conditions. Depending on the shell's contents, this is done by detonation or burning in specific dismantling facilities. The off-gasses are treated prior to release into the open air. Scrap and debris following the destruction of the projectiles are dealt with by specific contractors. The Australian soldiers in this image are all carrying box respirators, essential for survival in trench warfare.
“[…] it all seems so horrible - and so unnecessary. I sometimes lie awake at nights, and think things over - and I often on such occasions pray that I shall not suffer from insomnia for a long time after the war . . . it would be too awful.”
Lt C. V. McCulloch, 2nd Bn, Strathfield, NSW
Lt McCulloch was later killed in action aged 26, on 27th October 1917
The construction of new buildings or road developments carries a particularly high risk to building contractors. Construction sites in Flanders will occasionally employ civilian contracted detection companies to identify and manage the inevitable unearthing of unexploded ammunition until its recovery by personnel of DOVO-SEDEE.
The construction site in the this image is in Ypres. Nine Victoria Crosses were awarded to the men of the AIF for their gallantry in the battles that raged around this town in 1917.
"The exaggerated machinations of hell are here typified. Everywhere the ground is littered with bits of guns, bayonets, shells and men, Oh the frightfulness of it all. Until my dying day I shall never forget this.
Captain Frank Hurley, Official Photographer of the AIF, 23 August 1917, at ‘Hill 60’
Crate number 143 of Great War vintage ammunition awaiting its destruction. Recovered from Flanders former battlefields, it is a sobering indication of the scale of the problem.
Each shell is barcoded primarily for the purpose of traceability through the complex disposal process. Another advantage of this system is that it allows the creation of a database of all types of ammunition recovered on the battlefield. The chalk circle indicates the filling point of a shell’s chemical contents during its manufacture. The grooved band on each shell’s base indicates it has been fired but failed to explode.
"Australia's greatest legacy is that left her by the soldiers who never returned - the dead soldiers fatherless children"
Mr P Board - chairman of the Soldiers Children's Educational Board, August 1927
An 8” British high-explosive shell is recovered from drainage works being undertaken in the back garden of a house in modern day Passchendaele. For the residents of Flanders, more specifically the south-west, such find’s are commonplace.
In 1920, Julia Goulding of Brisbane, Queensland, wrote to the AIF headquarters in London -
"I am writing to enquire of my son John Joseph GOULDING No555. B Company 31st Battalion AIF who was reported missing since July 19th 1916... I have waited patiently with an aching heart for news of him... I know he was not the only one by thousands, but he was my son, lent to me for 35 years".
In March 2012, her son's remains were discovered in a mass grave of allied soldiers near Fromelles, France.
Flander’s seemingly conventional flat landscape gives clues to its more sinister nature after periods of rain. As a result of a combination of a landscape destroyed through bombardment and prolonged periods of heavy rain, countless men and mules drowned in the morass at Passchendaele.
It took the population of Flanders three years of labour to fill the craters left after the fighting. During this time exhumation companies - made up in many instances by many of the 96,000 members of the Chinese Labour Corps - worked tirelessly to exhume the fallen men from the then healing landscape.
Interviewed more than 50 years after the Armistice, Jim McPhee tellingly revealed the lifetime of debilitating trauma he had silently endured -
“We thought we managed alright, kept the awful things out of our minds, but now I’m an old man and they come out from where I hid them. Every night.”
Jim McPhee from Drouin in Victoria, a Field Ambulance veteran of Gallipoli and the Western Front