The ‘Sweepers’ of Unexploded WWI Ordnance

The two-men team of Guy Momper and Raoul Weber are just part of the handful men who are tasked to be the ‘sweepers’ of unexploded WWI ordnance.

They score the fields in the northern part of France day in and out. Their outfits may make them look more like farmers in watching over their fields in that part of the country. But in truth, they are called ‘les demineurs’ in French or the ‘sweepers’ and their main task is to collect unexploded WWI ordnance.

The Sweepers

Specialist Guy Momper and co-worker Raoul Weber are two of the handful of men tasked as ‘sweepers’ of WWI shells and munitions. Many of these they find lying on the fields of northern France, particularly on the area that stretches between the French city of Verdun and the border of Germany — about a 60-mile expanse.

The battle within this area was reportedly heavy during the Great War. As a result, it is believed that there are still million of French and German munitions -unexploded – littering across this said region.

As history has it, the Battle of Verdun in 1916 lasted for 6 months. Artillery barrages in several of the areas during the battle had been very intense it is estimated that an average of thousands of shells fell on every square meter within the zone.

The battle of Verdun during the Great War
The battle of Verdun during the Great War

Even Mr. Momper, along with his team of demineurs or sweepers, deduce that there will still be unexploded ordnance waiting to be uncovered even a century from now. According to him, as people need more space to build more houses and such, the construction stirs up the earth. And when this happens, whoever does it also keeps the shells, mortars and grenades in that piece of land. So, in a sense, the Great War has not yet ended. And it will go on so for the next 100 or 200 years.

The team of sweepers advises those who unearth unexploded ordnance to not destroy them on their own. Rather, they should call the  professionals to do that as the task is deemed dangerous and they could get themselves in harm’s way.

The Sweepers: At the Brink of Death

Though exact numbers of death caused by vintage bomb explosions, Mr. Momper and his team of sweepers knew that their job really places them inside death’s mouth.

In 2007, two professionals from Metz were killed after an ordnance they were transporting exploded.

Mr. Momper says that given the number of the still-to-be-found shells and munitions, nothing happening is next to impossible.

He further added that sweepers like him do take a lot of precautions in doing their jobs. However, they might have carried and transported a million of these things, but there is still a great possibility that their next finds will bring them to their end.

Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE