Royal Engineers Second World War bomb disposal

While much of the glory from fighting Hitler went to those who engaged the enemy directly, subtler yet no-less-important battles were simultaneously being fought at home and behind the lines.

To mark the recent publication of his book 'Bomb Disposal in World War Two', author Chris Ransted tells Forces Network of his fascination with collecting photographs of bomb disposal operations from the conflict.

Having been interested in this subject for many years, I enjoy researching photos relating to it that have come from assorted places: Junk shops, auctions, or even copies that have been given to me by family members of those involved in bomb disposal during the Second World War.

Most photos, unfortunately, have no annotations on the back, or, if they do, they are very scant in detail. 

However, even though the 'who', 'where', and 'when' are often not recorded, some photos can still provide important pieces to the overall puzzle.

What follows are some examples of these jigsaw pieces:

Home guard bomb second world war

Here, a member of the Home Guard triumphantly rests his foot on this beast like some big game hunter. 

A bit of research found that this was taken at Wimbledon Common.

Plymouth Royal Engineers bomb disposal World War 2

This photo gives a good indication of how many bombs were being dealt with.

It was revealed to have been taken of a Plymouth-based Royal Engineers bomb disposal unit after the discovery of a similar photograph in another book, taken at the same time from a different angle.

British bomb disposal WW2 Tobruk and bomb explosion in desert

Some photos are obviously posed and can be a bit comical, like this one with a chap with his fingers in his ears.

It was taken in the Tobruk area, Libya (while the one next to it shows an explosion in the desert).

Bomb disposal Firth of Forth

Other pictures are very poignant, such as ones taken of men that are known to have been killed a short time later, or ones where a comrade has taken a photo of a grave, perhaps for the individual's loved ones back in Blighty.

This photo had an annotation: 'The last photo taken of father and his squad'.

CPO Charles Baldwin DSM, was killed attempting to recover a sea mine in the Firth of Forth.

Bomb disposal Oxshott Surrey Second World War

A photo can also give some insight into the equipment being used at particular times.

Early in the war men were expected to still wear their tin hats while working on unexploded bombs (UXBs).

This was taken at Oxshott in Surrey. 

Royal Engineers bomb disposal second world war

As well as pictures, sometimes you can pick up negatives that certain camera shops will still develop. 

Notice how as the war progressed these Royal Engineers have become a little more ragged in appearance - the tin hats from the earlier period have been dispensed with.

Royal Engineers bomb disposal bomb shafts Second World War

Other changes are evident, for example, in the development of bomb disposal procedures.

In the early days, the shafts dug down to bombs were often unsupported.

The photo on the left is a good example of this - a shaft that was, essentially, a second threat to the Royal Engineer working on a bomb because without support it was liable to collapse on him.

Death could come from being buried alive, or simply from the bomb having been set off by the cave-in. 

Later on, better-engineered shafts were the norm, though this one shown on the right was calculated slightly wrong, as the bomb wasn't found conveniently in the middle. 

RAF tank second world war

Some pictures are surprising. Who knew the RAF used tanks! 

This photo shows 6210 BD squad using a French WWI tank (used in WWII by the Germans and then recaptured by the Allies) as a safe way to clear mines laid on captured airfields.

Royal Engineers bomb disposal during World War 2

Some photos indicate camaraderie, such as this one on the left of members of 12 Bomb Disposal Company Royal Engineers.

Written on the back is 'Self, (Driver Edward Moore)', with 'Pops', Stan Atkins and the caption 'We were the youngest and oldest in our squad!'

Meanwhile other pictures, such as the one on right, just beg the question – 'What is all this about?'

Royal Engineers bomb disposal in Merseyside Liverpool

Fortunately, some photographs record the names of all those pictured for posterity - where they were from, along with, as in this case, where the photo was taken - 'Merseyside, Liverpool'

To learn more, read Chris Randsted's book 'Bomb Disposal in World War 2', from Pen and Sword Books. To get free postage and packaging (within the UK) and a 25% discount off the usual retail price, enter the code BDFN25 after typing in the billing address. (The code can also be quoted over the phone to the sales team at Pen and Sword who can be reached at 01226 734222).

Bomb Disposal in World War Two book jacket

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