Ch. 11 — “The Duke of Sussex”

Ethan Thomas calls from NNN with a ‘just-in’ report of an unexploded bomb (UXB) in London, England. The purpose of his call is to see if the family could be in a position to render assistance in defusing the weapon and making it safe for removal.

NNN has been advised that this is not part of a terrorist attack, with which that city has been plagued over the last 15 to 20 years. In fact, the bomb is a 75-year old rusty relic of ‘the great unpleasantness,’ World-War-II.

London’s ‘Unexploded Bomb Disposal Team’ has been working on an explosive device recently located at The Duke of Sussex, a public house (or pub, in the local vernacular,) in the Waterloo Station area of south east London.

The immediate concern, reasonably, is the safety of the members of the UXB Team. Far too many members of the team had paid with their lives for the privilege of serving their fellow Britons in this hyper dangerous occupation. Finding anything that would increase the safety of the operation is vital. Such is always an item of top priority with the ‘brass’ of the department.

A secondary regard has already been addressed. Several high-occupancy blocks of flats are located close by (Cole House, Davidge House, Greet House, Santley House). The hundreds of tenants of all of these buildings are potentially under intense threat from flying debris, should the detonator of the wartime souvenir be triggered. Notice of the discovery of the UXB caused their evacuation by police.

The 500 pound object had punched its way through a backyard shed [what we, in North America, might tend to call a ‘lean-to,’] during the Luftwaffe’s ‘blitz’ of London, mainly during 1940’s ‘Battle of Britain,’ but also during other years of the war, and, since it failed to explode, it easily pierced the metal roof of the structure. At the same time, it dislodged a sheet of ‘corrugated iron,’ which, along with some other debris, fell over the hole in the roof. Thus, due to the back yard being unused, it was disguised from a casual glance; it had gone unnoticed for all of those seventy-five years.

As a result, the hole in the shed first became visible only after a recent violent windstorm blew into the area and caused the corrugated iron sheeting to be unseated from its location and fall to the ground. From an upper bedroom window, the current proprietor spotted the war-damaged roofing material which aroused his suspicions; he called the authorities.

The UXB disposal group was immediately summoned when police officers discovered the metal fins on the World War II antique. The weapon had buried itself several feet underground; the metal parts spotted by the police officers were only just visible using a powerful torch [or, flashlight, if you’re an American].

The wartime landlords of The Duke of Sussex, were the Cole brothers, Dan and Fred. Both men are long-dead, but, if such were possible, they would certainly be turning in their graves at the thought of their wives and children, not to mention themselves, being in such close proximity to a deadly device like this, almost literally right under their noses, for so many years.

Our teenaged heroine, Lyndsey, is the one who happens to answer the phone to NNN: “Oh, hey, Ethan.” She has now met the correspondent on more than a few occasions and he has begun to realize that this young lady is something special. In fact, he is growing to appreciate her skill and dexterity at planning operations that his network has been involved in.

She listens carefully for a brief period, making a few notes. “Let me talk this over with my dad and DJ, and I’ll get one of them to get right back to you.”

“Dad! Mom! James! Come, right away!”

“I just took a call from Ethan in New York. He’s had a report from England about an unexploded bomb from World War II buried behind a building in a residential area of London. He wants to know what we think about lending a hand with the System in disarming it. What do you think?”

“Well, I guess as long as they don’t want us to handle the actual explosives, there shouldn’t be any problems. What do you think, Dianne?”

“I guess my only questions would be ‘How safe is this thing? What is the likelihood of it going off?’ DJ, what do you think?”

“Lynz. Did Ethan say how deeply the bomb was buried in the ground?”

“He said it was a dozen or so feet below the surface and that the cops who found it said that they had to use a strong flashlight just to be able to see the metal fins at the back of the device.”

“OK. I guess if the UXB guys in London are willing to stick their necks out, then they must feel that it’s relatively safe. How do you feel about this, Dad?”

“That’s pretty good reasoning, son,” Russell encourages. “OK, we’ll go for it!”

“Can one of you call Ethan, and let him know. The number’s on the speed-dial.”

So a fifteen-year-old boy picks up the telephone and calls NNN to let the network know that the family will be pleased to assist with the London project.

“Are you going to send a camera crew along for the trip, Ethan? … Will we pick you up at the usual location? … What time did the London folks want us to arrive? … That will be eleven o’clock this morning, our time … Are you coming along? … Great, see you at eleven on the nose. I’ll call you before we start out.”

#

The necessary call is made to NNN to get Ethan and his crew up onto the roof ready for the pick-up. The collection is duly performed and the mission is on its way. ‘Houston. No problem!’

It transpires that it is the turn of Dianne to ‘drive’ the System to the next assignment. It is encouraging on this occasion to see that she remembers not to first back up in time so that the destination arrival will be in daylight. This op does not require time travel. The choice of times by the London people has taken care of that! [Please don’t tell Dianne that we will be passing almost directly over Windsor Castle while we are en-route to Waterloo Station. Sorry, old family joke!]

With the personal travel guides to Christopher Columbus along for the ride, how could she go wrong?

Next, at altitude of 2 miles, she heads out across the U.S. eastern seaboard, then over the Atlantic Ocean, heading in the general direction of Europe. Oxygen is unnecessary at this height; the trip is over in next to no time and the west coast of the emerald isle (Ireland) comes into plain sight; quickly followed by the ‘arrowhead’ of Cornwall in the southwest quadrant of England.

The Isle of Wight again provides an excellent landmark for a near 90-degree turn to the north; over the Solent; the city of Southampton; then off in the direction of London. The ‘Big Smoke’ is clearly visible from the vantage point of 2 miles up in the air.

Ethan Thomas has made arrangements for them to meet with bomb disposal personnel on Lower Marsh (also known locally as ‘The Cut,’ which in post-war years was home to a flourishing street market), at Baylis Road, both of which are in the immediate vicinity of Waterloo Station. This latter the likely intended target of the Heinkel He-111 bomber that dropped the missile in the first place.

During the near four-month-long Battle of Britain (July 9 to October 31, 1940), many hundreds of such aircraft dropped many hundreds of bombs and aerial mines onto targets of every description, all over the city of London. Many were randomly dropped without regard for where, or what effects might result.

Quickly the huge bends in the River Thames come into view. She drops down to rooftop level; ‘cruises’ past the London Eye, zips over County Hall, [now the location of ‘the London eye,] and voila, there it is; Waterloo Station, looming ahead of them. The junction of Baylis Road and Lower Marsh lies just over one hundred yards south of the Waterloo Station terminal where, until 2007, the international channel-tunnel trains made their formal UK arrival.

Sure enough, Dianne spots the flashing beacons of the UXB team’s transport on an otherwise totally deserted street. [Eat your heart out, Kevin Spacey; the Old Vic Theatre, is immediately across the intersection with Waterloo Road, a few steps further east. Many a night would see Sir Winston Churchill watching Richard Burton acting in the plays of William Shakespeare at the Old Vic, with Winston following along, said Sir Richard, with the words of the immortal bard, in a not-very-well-disguised whisper. Sorry, we digress yet again!]

Baylis Road has been evacuated all the way past Johanna Street School, to Frazier Street. Munro House occupants were allowed to remain in their homes but with strict instructions to stay out of rooms with an easterly exposure. Those who were unable to avoid such rooms have already been evacuated.

After exchanging pleasantries with the UXB crew, two of the officers accompany Ethan Thomas and his two camera-crew members along Baylis Road just a short distance to give them a little perspective of the area. “These building are the ones that the police insisted be evacuated due to the possibility of flying debris if the unit should be triggered.

They point out the courtyard with Davidge House on the left, followed by Greet House, both backing onto Coral Street, with Santley House and Cole House located immediately in front of them. Suddenly, the picture comes to life and Ethan is able to understand the concern the police department has expressed.

“Shall we go,” Ethan invites, and all five of the parties climb aboard ‘USS Dusty Miller Drive’ … Dianne edges ahead; not far, just across the road to the public house.

The System ‘intrudes’ into the drinking establishment at the corner of Coral Street at its front door and exits just to the right of the dart board at the rear of the bar. On the playing surface, two darts are in the triple-twenty, the third dart in the double-twenty, a perfect finish for a player needing 160 points to win [Good grief, we digress yet again, but this time at a very steep angle].

The whereabouts of the hazardous artifact is highlighted by a fluorescent orange arrow painted like graffiti on the corrugated sheets of the lean-to in the back yard.

Our ‘driver’ skillfully lowers the System into the ground and eases it gently forward with help from Russell’s big flashlight. It takes only moments of time, even at the crawl Dianne is doing. Then slowly, oxidizing [rusty] metal, about the circumference of a large oil drum, comes into plain view, clearly displaying its oxidized state, evidence that the weapon has been exposed to the air, hence, not completely hidden for those many years.

Captain John Davies Jr. thanks Dianne for her great ‘driving’ skills.

“Before we get to work on this, could I just ask you to double check around this unit, Mrs. Richardson? If you would work your way down about another thirty feet, then for about thirty feet in each direction. That will form a rough box shape of about 27,000 cubic feet. He checks the direction as Dianne travels, by holding a special GPS locator unit as far outside the screen as he could.”

“Captain, why are you doing this?” Ethan queries.

“I need to make quite sure that this is the only device here. It is not unknown, because of the enormous number of bombs dropped on London during the Blitz, for two bombs to hit the ground in very close proximity. Back in wartime London, a team of UXB engineers defused a bomb, and then as the inert ordnance was cranked out of the ground by a crane, it set off a second bomb that had landed in the same spot on an earlier raid. Its detonator triggered, and both bombs exploded and killed the entire crew.

“Thanks again, Mrs. Richardson,” the young officer says. “This equipment is certainly a lifesaver. That seems to be everything in the area. Can you return to the object in question now?” He consults his assistant’s notes and said: “It should be about three yards to the right, which would be north. Is that OK with you, Dave?” he asked his colleague.

“Good, sir; spot on!” he responds as Dianne ‘cruises’ the requisite distance to the explosive device they have already located.

“Hold it, madam, if you would,” he said, “That’ll do for now … This is it! … Can you slide sideways around the device until we come to the fuse port?”

Dianne pivots the System to the left and moves ahead a fraction of a yard, then makes a right turn to face the bomb casing again.

“That’s it, there; but it’s out of reach. Can you do that ½-yard trick again, madam?”

‘Madam’ complies and, seconds later, what looks like a small boilerplate appears, centered in the screen.

The NNN camera crew, brothers Bill and Thomas Miller, are carefully recording every facet of the operation, getting especially close up footage of what now follows.

Davies’ companion, Lt. David Bartlett, now takes over. Not hesitating, he coolly reaches into the large-screen TV and touches the fuse port’s cover plate, held in place by eight medium-sized bolts. He runs the fingertips of his right hand gently across the plate, pressing here and there to check for any play or looseness, but finds no movement; it is rigidly in place, held there by the eight bolts.

Next, his fingers slide around the plate, which is rectangular, and some 8 x 12 inches in size, feeling for any gaps between the add-on and the main casing. As he has anticipated, there are none. The Germans might have been the bad guys, he said, but at least they were good when they were making precision-built devices, like the bomb.

The young UXB officer takes his toolbox and extracts a micrometer and quickly takes the measurement of one of the bolt heads, then selects the appropriate socket from his kit. He slips it onto the wrench, places the tool over the head of the uppermost bolt, and tests the torsion required to release the fastener. No go!

He moves over to the next bolt head and once more applies pressure on the wrench. Again, nothing! He reaches into his case and retrieves a larger, heavy-duty wrench. He switches the socket over to the new tool, this time adding an extension shaft to allow greater leverage.

Having had this experience on many past occasions, he knows that the probability is that the bolts are rusted in place, judging by the condition of much of the exterior of the bomb. Back to the toolbox and Bartlett picks up an aerosol can of rust remover. He sprays liberally over all eight bolts, paying especial attention to the area where the boilerplate meets up with the main body.

“That’ll need a bit of time to do its stuff,” he says. “We’re going to have to wait 15 or 20 minutes.”

“Say, while we’re waiting, would you folks like a good cup of American coffee?” Lyndsey asks. “I’ll run up and put the coffee-maker on; it’ll be ready long before the juice on the bolt heads.”

“Thanks, Lynz,’ Russell says. “I’m gasping for some java.”

“Yes, good idea, thank you very much,” Ethan replies.

Lynz heads off upstairs with orders for nine coffees. With her interest in the goings-on below in the recreation room, she is soon back. “It won’t be long,” she pants.

“Would you come up and get the coffee, it’s quite pleasant outside; maybe we can sit on the patio.”

The group saunters up the double flight of stairs to the main floor. Lyndsey has set up enough chairs around a picnic table on the patio for the entire party. Now all can enjoy a respite from the intenseness of what is afoot down below.

John Davies and David Bartlett both squint as they walk into the bright sunlight. “Hey, we’re not used to this bright sunlight or this heat; but, I have to tell you, I’d like any opportunity to get used to it,” David volunteers. “It’s winter in London! How come it’s so warm at your house?”

“It’s winter here, too, David, but we’re in Florida,” DJ clarifies.

“What! How can that be?” David asks incredulously.

“I’m afraid it’s true! We’re all in St. Petersburg, Florida,” Dianne confirms.

“So how did John and I get from London to St. Petersburg? I can’t believe this. My brother and his wife are on holiday in Clearwater Beach.”

Ethan pipes in here, to save the Richardsons from any unnecessary concerns, “These folks have discovered a way to make their HDTV travel across thousands of miles in seconds. It even allows them to access different places simply by climbing through the TV. The family calls it the System.

“Interestingly, as you have already seen, it allows them to penetrate solids using the device; even going underground for great distances.

“I don’t know whether or not it would actually be able to intrude into a bomb casing in an event like this. Perhaps after you get the nasty parts out, the folks might be willing to run a check on that.”

“This is hard to believe; that we’re here in America, while downstairs through the television screen is London, 3,500 miles away.

#

After another thirty minutes or so of pleasant conversational interchange, the group returns to the lower level to continue the job at hand.

“How do you know that the plate is not booby-trapped, so that it explodes when you remove it?” Ethan again questions.

David Bartlett answers him with just a few words. “Honestly, I’ve seen too many of these 500-pounders. They weren’t ever equipped with anti-defusing devices, for some reason. Maybe someone in Germany actually had a heart.”

#

Now, David, using the heavy-duty socket-wrench, applies gentle pressure, increasing it slowly, until, at last, the nut stops fighting, and lets up on its barnacle-like grip on the outer casing. He gives it two turns out and then re-tightens it, by hand.

He repeats this process on the remaining seven bolts until each of them has been freed from the grip of its oxidation, loosened and then re-tightened.

The next action is to withdraw each bolt in turn about one single revolution of the wrench at a time, until all eight bolts are released from the thread inside the casing.

Finally, he is able to ease each of the bolts out from its home of seventy-five years and that allows him to use a static-free mini crowbar to pry the faceplate from the exterior of the projectile.

Without hesitation, Bartlett puts on a pair of rubber gloves and probes inside the huge metal body with his right hand and carefully extracts a thick cylindrical metal object. Said he: “You know, for us, this is the easy part … It’s getting to the damned things with picks and shovels that makes our job so hazardous. All of us were delighted to hear that you were willing to come with your new technology and save us the trauma of the dig for this baby. Now we can arrange for a crane to pull it out. By the way, what in the world happened to your sofa?”

Ethan Thomas and his NNN team are on hand to capture all the action on video for exhibition on the nighttime broadcast of ET 180°, again sending ratings soaring for the anchors of the evening program segments.

####

 

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