First World War grenade found among potatoes at crisp factory

The German grenade had been accidentally shipped from northern France to Hong Kong

The first World War grenade found in a shipment of French potatoes in Hong Kong. Photograph: Hong Kong police force

More than 100 years ago, a German soldier pulled the pin on a hand grenade and threw it into a trench on a first World War battlefield in northern France. The live, mud-encrusted grenade found its way into a shipment of potatoes from France to the Japanese-owned Calbee Snacks factory in Hong Kong, where it was defused by the local bomb squad at the weekend.

The photograph released by the Hong Kong Police Force shows the grenade nestled on a burlap bag in a metal box, looking deceptively like a potato. A factory worker picked it up from a batch of tubers during the screening process and took it to Calbee's security office, in an industrial estate in Hong Kong. They called the police.

Three sappers detonated the device several hours later, after placing it in a sewer one metre (3.2ft) underground. Hong Kong police published a video of the detonation online. Police commissioner Wilfred Wong Ho Hon told journalists the grenade was 80mm wide and weighed 1kg (2.2lbs).

The exact origin of the potato shipment was not stated. Unexploded ordnance from the first World War is part of daily life in northern France. The Museum of the Great War, Historial de la Grande Guerre, reports that 50 tonnes of shells, bullets, grenades and other relics are found every year in Picardy alone. Most of the ordnance is found by farmers.

Some of the ordnance found in the French countryside at Historial de la Grande Guerre at Peronne, France’s leading museum of the first World War. Photograph: Historial de la Grande Guerre

The French journalist and author Yves Gibeau donated a large collection of first World War ordnance to a permanent exhibition at the Historial. He found all the objects in fields around the Chemin des Dames, the scene of one of the fiercest battles and the first mutiny of the first World War.

In Hong Kong, it is more common to find munitions from the second World War. The US Air Force carpet-bombed the area in 1941, when the Japanese occupied the area. Last year, three bombs were discovered in Hong Kong, two on the construction site of a new metro.

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is an Irish Times contributor