A WWI Grenade Was Once Found At A Potato Chip Factory In Hong Kong

Photo Credit: 1. Hong Kong Police Force 2. DocChewbacca / Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

We’ve all heard stories about people finding human thumbs in their soda or rat tails in their fried chicken. However, we bet you’ve never heard the one about the World War I-era grenade that popped up at a Hong Kong potato chip factory a century after the conflict ended.

Soldiers walking through a trench during battle
Soldiers walking through a trench in France during WWI. (Photo Credit: Fototeca Storica Nazionale / Getty Images)

Our unusual tale begins in France, on a potato farm that was home to a maze of trenches during the Great War. Once it ended, the trenches were filled, burying all signs of battle, including weapons, tools and other items. Decades later, the field became home to a potato farm, which sends its crops to become potato chips, the most delicious of salty snacks.

According to the Hong Kong Police Force, they were called to the Calbee Four Seas Company factory one Saturday morning in 2019. One of the factory’s processing machines had detected something unusual in its regular shipment of potatoes from France: an undetonated grenade, about the size of a spud.

The 2.2 pound, 3-inch diameter grenade was believed to be German-made and, while the approximate size of a potato, was five times as heavy. It was covered in rust and mud, and in unstable condition, indicating it had been accidentally unearthed while the French farm was harvesting its crop.

“If it was covered in mud, the grenade was likely to have been left behind, dropped by soldiers there during the war, or left there after it was thrown,” said University of Hong Kong military historian Dave Macri to the South China Morning Post. “The ditch was then filled up and used as a growing field, and the explosive was tossed into the mix of harvested potatoes… And sent to Hong Kong.”

Potato chips on an assembly line
Calbee potato chips. (Photo Credit: South China Morning Post / Getty Images)

Given the unstable nature of the grenade, it had to be detonated on the spot. Firefighters and officials with the Hong Kong Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau cordoned off the area around the factory, placed the grenade inside a hole in the road, and used a high-pressure water firing technique to set the explosive off.

Using such techniques to detonate or destroy bombs from a distance has been used since the 1990s. They’re often used by bomb-disposal robots that shoot highly pressurized water at exposed wires, dislodging them and disrupting the bomb’s power supply.

Grenade in a box
WWI grenade found at the Calbee factory. (Photo Credit: Hong Kong Police Force)

At the end of the day, no one was injured during the detonation of the grenade, and employees at the factory were able to return to work. It’s a good thing the explosive was discovered when it was. Just imagine what would have happened if machinery had attempted to cut or deep-fry it like the rest of the potatoes…