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A Live Grenade Was Mistaken for a Potato and Sent to a Chinese Chip Factory

It's thought that the explosive was harvested from a field used for trenches in World War One.
Gavin Butler
Melbourne, AU
A WW1-era hand grenade and a pile of potatoes
Image via YouTube/Breaking News Today (L); and Wikimedia user DromoTetteh, CC licence 4.0 (R)

Workers at Hong Kong’s Calbee chips factory made an unexpected discovery over the weekend. At about 9am on Saturday morning, while sorting through a batch of fresh European potatoes, staff found a live German hand grenade. The mud-encrusted, World War One-era explosive was detected by the factory’s potato processing machines, according to South China Morning Post, and is thought to have been buried in a field in France where trenches were dug more than a hundred years ago. These days that field is more commonly used for harvesting spuds—and it’s believed that the grenade was bagged up with a haul of potatoes by mistake before being shipped across the ocean to China.

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"All the information to date suggests that the grenade was imported from France together with the other potatoes," said Superintendant Wong Ho-hon, who arrived on the scene alongside local police to detonate the “unstable” explosive, BBC reports. “We identified it as a German-made weapon believed to have been used during the first world war. We chose to disarm it because it had not exploded at the time it was thrown so there was an immediate need to do so.”

Officers detonated the grenade using what Wong described as a “high-pressure water firing technique” once firefighters and bomb disposal officers had secured the area. Video footage uploaded to the Hong Kong Police Force’s twitter on Saturday shows the device being planted in a drain before it explodes. No injuries were reported.

Speaking to the South China Morning Post, University of Hong Kong military historian Dave Macri made further speculations regarding the origin of the explosive.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Dave added that, in the event the century-old explosive had gone off, the consequences could have been dire for workers at the Calbee chip factory. “If you’re standing close, within five feet, you could get wounded or even killed,” he said.

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