GRAND EST, France — Beneath the verdant, rolling farmland of northeastern France lay a deadly secret of WWI: hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of unexploded bomb shells. Every year, farmers, treasure hunters, hikers, or curious children are killed or maimed because a mishandled or misidentified shell goes off.
And it’s the job of the French Interior Ministry’s de-mining teams to find and collect them before that happens.
"It is dangerous, and we accept it," Raoul Weber, a member of the de-mining team in Metz, told VICE News. “I love my job," he added. "But the risk is calculated. No civilian should take it."
Just this past February, two members of a de-mining team from Luxembourg were killed when a shell they were handling exploded. And yet, it's a job someone has to do.
Each day, the Metz team assembles a list of locations where bombs have been found. And then like a garbage collector, Weber's small truck pulls up to cart away each new pile of grenades, mortar shells, or gas bombs that villagers have discovered. Some are so unstable that they must be destroyed on the spot. Others are taken to a depot and destroyed at a later date.
Either way, it's a surreal experience. With grazing cattle and fields as far as the eye can see, the cognitive dissonance between the area's current beauty and its haunted past is tangible.
This segment originally aired June 28, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.