True Story No7


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 Swedes.

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 Army.

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 staying.

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 wooden hut.

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 Hardy.

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 on them!

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 for mines.

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 to begin.

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 to dig.

Not too strenuously I might add, but rather carefully!

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 all".

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!


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