Earlier this year my kids and I discovered some grenade fragments in the dunes at Wickaninnish Beach in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. At first glance, it looked like the rusted remains of a large metal object. Closer examination revealed it was multiple fragments of similar in size and shape. More distinct pieces of metal held clues to identifying what the objects actually were.
A Military History
In the 1940s and 1950s, training exercises took place in the Long Beach Unit of the park with soldiers using live ammunition and ordinance. Since the sands in the dunes are always shifting, the remains of these training exercises become uncovered. In 2012, the sand dunes were closed to public access for two years when an unexploded explosive ordnance (UXO) was discovered there. Evidence of military training exercises in the dunes includes grenade fragments, rifle shells, and parts of mortars.
Fortunately we didn’t find any live ordnance in the dunes, but the shifting winter sand had exposed the remains of what could have been a training exercise from over seventy years ago. It was surreal to imagine what the scene in the dunes would have looked and sounded like back then. The sounds of practicing war would be very different from the natural sound of the constant waves and wind of today.
Rusted Levers and Shrapnel
We found a fairly wide area of dunes with a large amount of rusted metal fragments scattered on the surface. The smaller chunks of metal looked to be the shrapnel of exploded grenades. In addition to the grenade fragments were a number of rusted levers (see photo below). We counted over twenty of these levers.
Striker springs were common as well. These were in varying degrees of completeness. Some were recognizable as springs by the ridges in the metal (see photo below) while others were less damaged.
One of the more fascinating and better preserved objects were the filling plugs (pictured below). We found a half dozen of these and they were mostly in good shape with threads intact. The distinctive plug is what makes me think that these were British issue “Mills” No. 36 MK 1 hand grenades.
Finally, we also found what I think is the cap chamber of the fuse of a grenade as well. The different type of metal used for this part of the grenade resulted in it being less rusted.
The dunes at Wickaninnish Beach are an amazing place to view rare wildflowers. With a bit of luck, they can also be a place where you can discover the historical remains of part of Canada’s World War II training exercises. If you do discover an UXO that is intact, it is important to leave it undisturbed and report your finding to a Parks Canada staff member. After 70 years old explosives can be very unstable.