101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No. 93: The Safe Hand Grenade

It’s possible, but unlikely, that when the kids of today play ‘war’ they mime sitting in command centres programming drones, or pretend to work on high-level AI routines for infiltrating ISIS on Instagram. It’s more likely that they continue to use the main two traditional imaginary weapons: guns and the hand grenade.

We could talk about Birmingham’s influence on the gun until the cows come home, but as the cows all live out in Warwickshire barn conversions we’d have to rig up some sort of notification system. So, let’s talk grenades, and in particular the famous one known as the Mills Bomb.

The grenade has the same linguistic root as the Spanish for pomegranate (‘granada’, from the city), so when William Mills developed his new bomb at the Mills Munition Factory in Hockley, he chose to shape it very much like a pineapple. It was the first modern fragmentation grenade and was first supplied to our brave boys – and to the imaginations of our little boys – in 1915, which was lucky as there was a war on.

Mills described it as the first “safe grenade”, the pin meaning it was safe for the grenadier rather than the grenadee. Well, safe-ish. A good chuck would be in the region of 50 feet, with reasonable accuracy, but the grenade could throw lethal fragments farther than this, so once thrown it was best to take cover.

At first the grenade was fitted with a seven-second fuse, but this delay proved too long and the fuse was reduced to four seconds: it wasn’t unknown for targets to pick up a Mills Bomb and send it back where it came from. Well, back to where it was thrown from: it came, as does almost everything worthwhile, from Birmingham.

Author: Jon Bounds

Jon was voted the ‘14th Most Influential Person in the West Midlands’ in 2008. Subsequently he has not been placed. He’s been a football referee, venetian blind maker, cellar man, and a losing Labour council candidate: “No, no chance. A complete no-hoper” said a spoilt ballot. Jon wrote and directed the first ever piece of drama performed on Twitter when he persuaded a cast including MPs and journalists to give over their timelines to perform Twitpanto. But all that is behind him.