Mine'd where you walk
I used to look after an R & D Department
that designed all sorts of odd things. Many were for Her Majesty
but whether she knew or not, I don't know.
One of the more useful things we did
was to develop metal detectors. These weren't for treasure hunting
but for more serious things like mines.
We made one particular mine detector
that could find anti-tank mines, specifically the one that looks
like a railway sleeper called the Bar Mine, which is used by
the British Army. These are dropped in lines from the back of
big vehicles specially made for the job. Although the mine is
made chiefly of non-metallic bits there are four large screws
holding the fuse assembly in position. I think this is so we
can find them again if we want them back in one piece. Anyway
the P6 mine detector looks for these screws, and it does this
very successfully. It also finds rusty nails and the like, which
it also does very successfully.
When the machine was declassified and we were allowed to sell
it to people other than Her Majesty, we had an enquiry from the
They wanted a few thousand, not necessarily
ours, but they wanted some in general.
Our agent in Sweden did all the leg
work and eventually organised a demonstration of P6 to the Swedish
A sample was sent over and I was told
to go to Stockholm and talk to the customer.
At this point I must add that, not surprisingly,
I don't speak Swedish, but more unusually, since most Swedes
are excellent linguists, I discovered that neither did our Agent
speak much English.
At some ungodly hour I met the Agent,
whom I shall call "Bo", outside the hotel where I was
After I'd uttered a few broken words
of English and he'd tried a few words of Swedish, we set off
in Bo's Volvo out of the City, and headed up North in the direction
of the Swedish Army.
After a long time we turned off the
main road and headed up a dirt track and stopped outside a large
We got out and I was introduced to some
very important looking gentlemen dressed in Army uniform with
plenty of gold braid and stuff.
From Bo's car boot was extracted a couple
of very large pairs of wellies, whilst from the hut was carried
a couple of what looked like large khaki boiler suits. I can't
remember what they're called, maybe fatigues, but the Army in
this country have them as well.
I took off my nice shiny black shoes
and hesitatingly pulled on one of the enormous floppy boiler
suits and donned a pair of the wellies about four sizes too big.
Bo did the same, but his fitted OK.
We must have looked like Laurel and
At this point I was a bit taken aback
as I 'd thought I was here for a meeting and perhaps a presentation
in a lecture room, but by then I was getting an inkling of what
was to come!
Fear began to dawn when, after I was
suitably togged up, one of the soldiers appeared carrying a P6
and handed it to me. Up to now I'd only used a metal detector
on the local beach looking for pennies.
I grasped the P6 halo probe and slung
the electronics box by its carrying strap over my shoulder.
The strap kept slipping off my shoulder,
because of the weight of the box to which it was attached, and
my un-soldier like physique but I tried not to make it look too
obvious, and together, three officers, Bo and myself, walked
up a short path behind the wooden hut.
I remember suddenly stopping
at a point just outside a barbed wire fence and rummaging around
to turn on the P6.
Why?...Because all along the barbed
wire dangled these bits of cardboard with skull and crossbones
One of the soldiers noticed what I was
doing and said something to his colleagues.
They all laughed uproariously and proceeded
to open a gate and file through into the field beyond.
I followed, nonchalantly waving the
P6 probe backwards and forwards trying to make out it was all
a big joke but with my knees knocking together.
I kept asking Bo whether there were
any live mines in the vicinity but every time I asked him he'd
say something to the soldiers and they'd all start laughing again.
I didn't know whether he understood
me or not.
We eventually stopped at the end of
a stretch of grass marked out with red and white tapes.
The lane, so indicated, was about 4
feet wide and 100 feet long and by using mostly sign language
the group's spokesman indicated that it was here I was to look
One of the soldiers had a clipboard
and he, with his colleagues, took up station at the other side
of one of the tapes.
Again I asked if there were any live
mines about, but my question only produced the same hilarity
as before, so I just laughed back and motioned that I was ready
I wobbled the P6 in front of me and
was rewarded by a loud bleep.
I gesticulated towards the piece of
ground over the offending article, and a second soldier who was
lurking at the back, behind the clipboard chap, leaned over the
tape and stuck in a little plastic marker with a flag attached.
I carried on along the lane with Bo
wedged in beside me, just to the rear, and taking care not to
walk on the little flags.
About half way and twenty or so bleeps
later, Bo seemingly lost his presence of mind, or his balance,
and after a few gyrations, his heel came down rather hard, close
to the last flag.
There was a sharp crack and purple smoke
issued from the ground under his foot!
There was a lot of merriment from the
soldiers and I relaxed a little.
They were practice mines!
Well how was I to have known?
Foreigners are foreigners after all
and may not be like Englishmen in matters of life and death!
I bashed on with less trepidation and
eventually reached close to the end of the lane.
At this point I found a weak target.
This was evidently not on the clipboard
as one of the soldiers came forward with a trowel and started
Not too strenuously I might add, but
He was rewarded about a foot down with
a small rusty nail.
There was then a conference.
"This isn't a mine", I think
was the gist, "so how did you find it?"
I tried to explain that I was actually
looking for metal and fortuitously the metal I was finding were
bits of mines.
"You can't find plastic mines then",
I think was the retort, because he then fished one out of his
pocket with a flourish.
"Most have some metal in them,"
I said, pointing to a thin metal ring around the object "But,
no, I can't find all-plastic mines".
When we finally stopped searching I
said via Bo that I was sorry I'd taken so long but for most of
the time I thought I was looking for real mines and I hadn't
wanted to walk on any.
The chap with the clipboard looked at
his watch and said to Bo what transpired to be "35 minutes,
that wasn't bad. We had a British Army sergeant demonstrating
a machine yesterday. He took over an hour and didn't find them
I said I didn't miss much as all my
experience was on the local beaches looking for money!
A year or so later, I understood we
were going to get an order for a couple of thousand P6s, but
by then our new MD had decided he wanted to sell computer systems,
not odds and ends like metal detectors, and had decided he'd
make more money out of metal detectors by selling the drawings
to another Company!