Under international law few civilised countries use land mines in conflicts today. Despite that many insurgents and less scrupulous nations do still use these deadly weapons and the British Army is well equipped to locate, Mark and subsequently clear mine fields to make the areas safe to military and civilians alike. Clearing mines is a slow and dangerous job so the first job is often simply to identify the extent of a mine field and to tape it off with suitable warning signs to prevent innocent locals from wandering into them and seriously maiming and injuring themselves. Small plastic signs are used that can be hung on fences, string or barbed wire. Tonight we are looking at a small triangular version:
This is made in bright colours to make it easily visible to any passerby. As well as saying ‘MINES’ in large white letters, a simple pictograph is shown to illustrate for those who cannot read that there are mines here and that they can maim and injure:
The sign has a set of three holes punched in it, with cut out tabs on the two outer holes, to allow the sitting be mounted on a fence wire or threaded on a string as the situation dictates:
Clearing mines is a hazardous operation, as reported by the BBC in a 2017 article:
“Danger: Minefield” are two words with an almost unsurpassed power to stop you in your tracks. It is Paul Heslop’s job to step past them.
Heslop is the United Nations Mine Action Service (Unmas) chief of programmes, supporting mine clearance, or “demining”, operations in 18 countries – and is a deminer himself.
“If demining is close to any job, then it is archaeology, because it is calm, slow, repetitive work,” says Heslop, who started clearing landmines 23 years ago. He says driving to the minefield is more dangerous than actually clearing mines. “We use a metal detector to find out where a mine is and then scrapers and prodders to carefully excavate it. A good deminer may find one mine a week.”…
Today, most demining activities are supported or run by humanitarian organisations like Unmas or the Halo Trust. Once a conflict is over, it is their job to train local people to use metal detectors to help find and then clear the mines. The clearing technique is less dramatic than the movies might tell you. Rather than blast a gap through a minefield – the traditional military approach to demining – the humanitarian organisation’s goal is 100% clearance, which is a lot trickier. It is often said that the only thing that guarantees an area has been completely cleared is that the deminer walks out the same way he or she came in.
Large numbers of landmines are often used to defend a military position instead of soldiers; unlike a sentry, a landmine never needs to sleep. And rather like a castle’s walls and moats, minefields can be used to channel an attacking army into what are chillingly called “killing zones”. And only a few mines need to be scattered over a field or in a forest to turn productive land into an overgrown wasteland. Even the threat of a mine is a powerful incentive to stay away.