A 60-year-old woman was injured this weekend on her farm at Langemark-Poelkapelle in West Flanders when a shell dating back to the First World War exploded.
The area is part of the Westhoek region that made up the front lines of the fighting in World War One, leading to unexploded ordnance – known as the ‘iron harvest’ – still being found more than a century later.
According to the demining service Dovo, they are called in to deal with about 150 tonnes of ordnance every year.
“The number of calls remains stable every year,” a spokesperson said. “We received 3,800 applications in 2020, 2,600 of them from the Westhoek, good for about 9,000 projectiles. It is rare for a projectile to explode.”
According to the woman’s family, she was planting potatoes with her two sons aged 31 and 20. The elder son was driving the tractor while the other son and his mother stood on the potato planter to make sure everything was working properly.
All of a sudden there was a loud explosion. The planter had touched the shell and detonated it. The woman received shrapnel wounds in the face and sustained burns, but her life is not in danger.
The origin of the shell is not known, but is thought to have been left over from a German attack on Allied lines in the area of the farm.
Dovo was called to the scene by the emergency services because of the presence of an explosive device and took away the remains of the shell for analysis. And, as it always does, the service stressed the importance of extreme caution when dealing with the iron harvest.
“Under no circumstances should you touch the ammunition,” a spokesperson said.
“Above all, keep calm and do not move anything. Call 101 immediately and notify the police. Provide them with as detailed information as possible about the number, dimensions and location. Dovo only comes at the request of the police to clean up or destroy ammunition.”