I was detecting near a farm, close to the village called IJzendijke, just on the Dutch - Belgian border, an area that has been the scene of heavy combat in october 1944 during operation Switchback. Finding loads of exploded 303 rounds, that seem to have been burned I got talking to the farmer, and he told me the story what had happend on his farm.
A big explosion had taken place at the farm on the 20th of october 1944, killing 42 British and Canadian instanly, and wounding another 42 of whom some died shortly after in hospital. The explosion was devastsating, followed by fires that left the complete farm ruined, body parts shattered around up to 100 meters ffrom the blast center. Wrecked vehicles were found twisted and burnt all around the scene, soldiers resting in the barns who survived the explosion died by collapsing walls and roofs.
What had caused this explosion I asked the farmer.
He told me the farm was a rendez vous point for the 284 comp of the 79th armoured division, preparing for an attack on the village of Breskens. The soldiers could rest at the farm, awaiting new suplies, tha attack was planned for the next morning. The vehicles in use where Sherman 'crabs', Crocodiles flame throwers, and AVRE-tanks.
The AVRE's were fitted with the Conger Device, a kind of tube rolled up that could be fired over a mine field. Once it was rolled out it would be filled with nitroglycerine, and a detonator would be placed. The AVRE would back up and detonate the hose, clearing a corridor in the mine field. Tests with the Conger Devise in England before D Day had proven it to be a dangerous weapon to opperate; it was very unstable and accidents accured during tests, but it was used on the beaches of Normandy without troubles, and they carried on using it, despite of its danger.
So what went so terible wrong at the farm that fatal morning on the 20th of october 1944, knocking out a complete combat unit?
From the main road there is a small track leding up to the farm, with a narrow concrete bridge running over a ditch. The armoured vehickles and tanks that had arrived the evening before had broken the bridge over the ditch. The last tanks had to be winched over the bridge as they got stuck in a large hole. The next morning a feul truck arrived at the scene, carrying the dangerous cargo of liquid nitro to fill the Conger Devices mounted on the AVRE's. Nobody that was near the truck survived to tell what went wrong, but the truck had got stuck and they used a winch to pull the truck over the broken bridge, and it exploded setting fire to everything. The explosion and fire that followed set the amo stocked at te farm a light, killing and wounding almost everybody at the site.
The farmer told me he had found some bits and pieces over the years, mainly exploded amo, but also a wrist watch and a wedding ring. I found a twisted Canadian barret badge of a tank division.