Exeter, Devon UK • Apr 18, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Features Thousands in Plymouth displaced after discovery of World War II bomb

Thousands in Plymouth displaced after discovery of World War II bomb

Cora Jamieson recalls the discovery of a bomb in the University of Exeter after the recent displacement of Plymouth residents due to a similar incident involving a World War II bomb.
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Image: Shopping in Plymouth, England after WWII bombing, May, 1943 via Wikimedia Commons

Residents in Keyham and Devonport in Plymouth received unprecedented news on the morning of the 20th February 2024, as the discovery of a WW2 era bomb underneath St Micheal’s Avenue caused the city council to issue a mass emergency alert.

The device was unearthed due to a resident excavating their house’s foundations for an extension.

In contrast to Plymouth however, the Army Logistical Corps decreed that the Exeter bomb was too unstable to be removed so they conducted a controlled explosion utilising roughly 400 tonnes of sand within a metal cage.

However, this is not a first for the South West as almost exactly 3 years ago, a similar incident occurred in the Birks Grange Student village in Exeter. The discovery of the 1000kg bomb on private land near the west side of campus, led to the evacuation of 2,600 people, including 1,400 students. In contrast to Plymouth however, the Army Logistical Corps decreed that the Exeter bomb was too unstable to be removed so they conducted a controlled explosion utilising roughly 400 tonnes of sand within a metal cage.

The damage and the disruption caused to both students and local residents was immense. Many local properties sustained damage, and around 250 students were told that they would not be able to return to their halls of residence at all during that term. Whilst the scale of the evacuation and overall disruption to travel and business was undoubtedly lesser than the recent incident in Plymouth, the scale of the destruction in Exeter was much more permanent.

This led to a huge lawsuit between the University and the insurance company, Allianz. The company successfully argued that the damage caused to the university fell under the ‘wartime exclusion’ clause and so they did not have to cover the loss. The University’s legal team argued that the cause of the loss was due to the army and police denotating the bomb, and that it does not extend to historical conflicts. The judge presiding over the case, Nigel Bird, said of the decision, “The dropping of the bomb is an act of war and so the loss suffered is excluded from cover.”

Overall, the recent events in the Southwest have remained a testament to the legacy of the Second World War within England. The South West in particular, was fiercely targeted during the war, with over 7,000 bombs dropped in Exeter alone, due to its geographic location near France, and its status as a naval power base.

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