Edward Hunt's Forest of Dean Miscellany

Fact, Fiction and Fantasy

Mustard Gas!

Mustard Gas and the Spruce Drive

Wars have always made heavy demands on the Forest, from the time the Silures rallied to the calls of Caradoc, through the Middle Ages and the undermining sappers, right up to the names lately added to our village memorials. In material things, however, the demand has changed with the years. While there were wooden walls to be built, here was the first source of supply; if it was horseshoes, or nails, or small cannon, the iron mines of Dean produced a share. Then when ships grew from steel plates and the iron industry moved away, timber was needed for pit props, building and a hundred more purposes, so that the woodlands woodlands were stripped far beyond the routine fellings.

The last war brought another need - concealment from enemy aircraft - and in this the forest played a big part. For miles the tree-shaded roads were stacked with explosives and other war materials wherever the verges were wide enough, and many new roads were made in the enclosures. No one will grudge this use, though it did bring with it severe restrictions on movement in the area. But there is reason to feel a lot less satisfied with the removal of (or failure to remove) some of these stores. Even now, five years after (this book was published in 1952 - EH), a big area round the Spruce Drive is dangerous owing to the presence of mustard gas. Admittedly the containers have perished, so that the removal process is slow and difficult, but we are entitled to wonder if much of the trouble is not due to the delay in tackling the job. This is not just a matter of amenity for picnic parties. I have been told by men working on the site that a number of local people have been seriously injured by picking up wood that has been contaminated. There are warning notices, to be sure, but they are unlikely to deter a child from wandering that way, for there are no fences.

  The above text is from:
                "The Forest of Dean"
                by F. W. Baty
                publisher: Robert Hale 1952

Mustard Gas in the Russell Enclosure

(I found this on the internet (wikipedia) - EH)

The collapse of Llanberis also lead to the decision to remove chemical weapons from subterranean storage, mainly a large number of bombs containing the unstable and corrosive mustard gas. Harpur Hill had been designated the central store for such devices in April 1940, receiving its first load in June of that year of mustard gas bombs evacuated from France.

In June 1942 it was decided to move the bombs to a remote site at Bowes Moor in County Durham. As an aside, the War Office chemical weapons store was at Russell's Enclosure in the Forest of Dean, post-war disclosures of the mismanagement there are a little disquietening.

The move of RAF bombs to Bowes Moor began in December 1941 with the bombs initially stored in the open under tarps or in wooden sheds. It was found that the sheep on the moorland would consume the tarpaulins and disturb the bombs, resulting in the addition of sheep-proof fences and gates for the entire site. Fifty new buildings were later added to store the larger bombs. To ease distribution of mustard gas, five Forward Filling Stations were built at or near existing bomb storage sites.

 The above information has been extracted from the web page:

          RAF munitions storage during World War II

Ammunition Supply Dump (ASDs)

The Salisbury Plain area also contained two of the three British ammunition supply dumps (ASDs) first used for ammunition shipments from the United States - Savernake Forest and Marston Magna. The Third, Cinderford, was in the Forest of Dean near the Bristol ports. The British ASDs areas containing adequate road nets and enough villages to provide railheads. Since the English countryside was too thickly settled to permit depots in the American or Australian sense, the British had stacked ammunition along the sides of roads. If the roads ran through an ancient forest or park with tall trees to hide the stacks from enemy bombers, so much the better; in any case roadside storage made the ammunition easily accessible, an important consideration at a time when fear of German invasion was always present. Each stack of artillery and small arms ammunition was covered by a portable corrugated iron shelter, or hutment, that was usually camouflaged by leaves poured over a wet asphalt coating. Bombs were stored in the open at Royal Air Force (RAF) depots. The first U.S. ammunition depots were activated on 2 August 1942 at Savernake Forest (O-675), capacity 40,000 tons, and Marston Magna (O-680), 5,000 tons. At both, troops were to be billeted in whatever buildings were available - the Marquess of Aylesbury's stables, farmhouses, a cider mill, and Nissen huts. But for some time to come, all U.S. ammunition depots had to be operated mainly by British RAOC troops. When large shipments of ammunition began to arrive in late August, more depots were needed. A site surveyed by the British but not yet used was found in the Cotswolds, northeast of Cheltenham. Activated as Kingham (O-670) on 11 September, this depot became by early 1943 the largest U.S. ammunition depot in England. On the same day that Kingham was activated, a fourth depot, O-660, was activated at the British ASD Cinderford and soon became the second largest U.S. ammunition depot. The sites for these four depots were selected with ground force ammunition in mind. For air ammunition, three main depots of about 20,000 tons capacity each were required in the first BOLERO plan. Two were established in the Midlands, near Leicester and air bases - Melton Mowbray (O-690) and Wortley (O-695), both activated 30 September. The third was Grovely Wood (O-685) in southern England, activated 2 September. In the meantime, SOS began to store bombs and other air ammunition at Savernake, Cinderford, Kingham, and Marston Magna, which then became composite, rather than ground force, depots.

  This text is an extract from:
                "The Ordnance Department: On Beachhead and Battlefront"
                by Lida Mayo

 See also:

          Acorn Patch - Explosive Ordnance Depot

          Americans in the Forest of Dean

          Photos Taken in the Forest of Dean

Edward Hunt