British Royal Navy divers had to don chemical protection suits while diving on a lake to recover mustard gas canisters left over from World War II. British police asked for the Navy’s help after several canisters were discovered in Roughton Woods, Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire.

The still deadly gas was found by two people who were digging for bottles. After the military was called in, military divers inspected the bottom of the lake only to find ten 70-year-old mustard gas bombs on the bottom.

The area was cordoned off from October 1, while the Royal Navy Bomb Disposal Dive Team, Army Bomb Disposal, fire and rescue, ambulance service, Environment Agency and police carried out the eight-day operation.

‘With reports of other people suffering from mustard agent poisoning, full bio-hazard precautions were taken – diving in a chemical environment wearing cumbersome personal protection equipment, then undergoing full decontamination at every stage.

‘The bombs themselves were British and well over 70 years old – the UK no longer uses chemical or biological weapons.’

The site was once home to RAF Woodhall Spa, a World War Two air base which hosted the Dambusters 617 Bomber Squadron.

Mustard Gas was first used by the Germans in World War I. The gas produced a strong garlic smell and exposure to it would cause bad chemical burns, blisters, breathing problems and death. The Allies also produced it in large quantities and both sides used it liberally in the final year of the First World War.

The use of mustard gas was outlawed by the League of Nations and the Geneva Convention in 1925 but nations, including Britain, continued to manufacture it right up until the end of World War II although neither side used chemical weapons during the fighting. Saddam Hussein used mustard gas on the Kurds after the Gulf War.
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Photo courtesy Royal Navy