Meanwhile, over in Brownhills West…

From the 'Walsall Observer', 11th April 1968. Click on the image for a larger version.

It’s funny how some things happen in twos and threes. The same anonymous contributor who doggedly sought out the story of the massive 2,240lb. ‘Hermann’ wartime bomb, discovered and defused in Walsall Wood, noticed this side-story in the same 1968 edition of the Walsall Observer.

While experts were carefully defusing Walsall Wood’s dubious gift from the Luftwaffe, kids in Brownhills West were found to be playing with a live British Army mortar round, itself dating back to the second world war. Quick-thinking off-duty PC H. Ballard stashed the ammunition safely in a ditch behind his home and waited for the bomb disposal team working in Walsall Wood to come and deal with the round.

I’d be intrigued as to how a live British Army mortar came to be in the area, and I wonder what became of Constable Ballard. Pictured with him is Mr. R Birch, and the two lived in Shannon Walk, on the Wilkin estate. Were you one of the children found to be playing with the explosive round? Do you know how it came to be in Brownhills?

These events certainly still have resonance today, with dummy ammunition being found during the draining of Chasewater, and a Second World War practice bomb recently unearthed on Cannock Chase.

If you’ve any recollections of the incident, please do comment here.

I reproduce the text below, sadly these older papers weren’t reproduced too well, but the article is readable if you click on it to read a full-size version.

Police warn of danger after bomb found by children

Brownhills police yesterday issued a warning about the danger from unexploded weapons as children were found playing with a live three-inch mortar shell on the Wilkin estate on Tuesday.

Said inspector G. Haycock: “If you find any kind of explosive device at all – no matter how small – do not touch it. Leave it where it is and tell your parents or the police immediately.

“Even after more than 20 years lying in the ground these bombs can still be lethal and may go off without warning. They were made to kill and they still can.”

The three-inch mortar with the date 1942 stamped on one fin, was handed to Police-constable H. Ballard of 18, Shannon Walk, Brownhills.

Constable Ballard, who was off-duty at the time, informed the police station at Brownhills, who relayed the message to the bomb disposal unit at work in Walsall Wood.

He placed it at the bottom of a ditch behind his garden to await the arrival of the experts.

They identified it as a live British Army mortar bomb and removed it for detonation on a range.

The caption under the picture reads:

Less impressive than the German bomb found at Walsall Wood, but nonetheless dangerous, this three-inch mortar, found by children on the Wilkin estate, Brownhills, on Tuesday, is examined by Police-constable R. (sic, it says H. in the main text) Ballard (right), of 18, Shannon Walk, and his neighbour Mr. R. Birch, of 16 Shannon Walk.

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9 Responses to Meanwhile, over in Brownhills West…

  1. Freddy says:

    There’s huge amounts of ordnance over Chasewater. The area at the back of Chasetown over to where Morrisons is. It was dumped after the war. I’ll see if I can find the press cutting from the Express n Star from 1986 when I found some with a mate. His dad took one up to Chasetown police station, bomb disposal exploded a couple by Chasetown Football club.

    We dug loads up after they’d gone, we threw them at walls, put them on fires smashed the ends off them, could we get them to explode? Could we ****.

    We had much more sucess with the live 303 rounds we found.

  2. The Edditer says:

    Did you know that top-secret army tanks were tested in the gravel pit at Walsall Wood that is now a nature reserve, during WWII?

    My late father witnessed a little girl (aged 3 I think) who was accidentally crushed by a tank on the way to the pit when he was a very young boy in the war.

    Some of these tanks were also tested in the lakes at Sutton Park – they were amphibious Valentine Duplex Drive tanks that were the successful prototypes of the amphibious Sherman tanks that sank during the D-Day landings.

    I could tell you the tale of the German refugee who worked on the periscope for these tanks, whose family had Einstein round to dinner and whose granddad founded and ran a public observatory in what became East Berlin…

    • Hi Edditer

      I’d certainly be interested in doing an item about this – it’s history I wasn’t aware of and from discussions I’ve had, it seems to have taken a few locals by surprise, too.

      If you’ve got any more info, or can direct me to where I might find some, I’d be really grateful.

      Thanks… loving the Tallygraoh, as ever.


  3. arkrite says:

    Over on the Walsall Wood side in the 1950s the teachers were always confiscating live 303 rounds off us kids. I only took one home once, The leathering I got of my Dad deterred me from doing it again. I remember being shown what I thought was a brick lined rifle pit in the fields across the canal from Walsall Wood Colliery. Perhaps there was a temporary firing range their. The Home guard was very active.

    Disposal of ammunition often came down to “Out of sight, Out of mind.” Lakes ,ponds and likely disused pit shafts would have been used.

  4. Freddy says:

    If you take a metal detector on the shore opposite the dam you’ll find loads of snider enfield and henry martini rounds. Apparently a militia unit used to line up on the dam and fire at targets there. No idea how true that is but there’s massive amounts of fired rounds to be dug up.

    • Philip Ward says:

      When I was a lot younger we used to collect flattened lead shot from the castle style building by the park for fishing purposes. I was told there used to be targets on there for firing practise. It certainly rings true and I will guarantee you will still find lead there if it’s not too overgrown.

  5. mick c says:

    I used to work on Smiths dump now owned by LCP estates at
    Chasetown and I found loads of 303 ammo,some of it laying on the surface, just before Morrisons and the road going down to the island by the railway station were built two GPO
    engineers were putting a phone line into the dome shaped hangar, (which is still there) when one of the guys looked down and realised that he was actually standing on a bomb.
    In next to no time the bomb disposal boys turned up, utilizing
    the sites JCB digger a deep hole was dug out and the bomb
    was put in complete with their own charges and then backfilled and sandbags piled on top. It went off with an almighty bang which shook most of the dust from the roof of the hangar i was working in.I wonder what else is over there
    waiting to surprise us?.

  6. Les H says:

    I havn’t been to Chasetown for about 40 years i always thought it was a dump and should be blown up. But still the guy had a close call I wouldn’t wish on any one.

  7. mick c says:

    Regarding the story of the two young lads finding the mortar shell, I think you will find that it was constable Ray Ballard who was involved with the disposal, Ray was a motorcycle cop at the time and shortly after this incident he left the police force and came to work at Rubery Owen plant hire in Apex rd Brownhills,

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