Newfoundland museum gets knuckles rapped for displaying live ammo: report

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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OTTAWA - A Newfoundland museum is proving that military history can be a blast.

Safety officials gingerly removed 13 pieces of ammunition from display cases at the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Museum after an inspection showed the ordnance might be dangerous.
Later tests proved that 11 of the pieces were indeed still live and packed with explosives. The cordite propellant was carefully removed from 10 cartridges and their primers were fired, rendering them safe for return to the displays. Another live fuse for an artillery shell had to be destroyed.
"The museum staff was informed that the items could not remain on display," says an internal army report into the incident.
"The cause of the incident was due to the lack of knowledge of the museum council members."
Documents outlining the case of the perilous projectiles were obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
"People donate the weirdest things to museums," Aubrey Halfyard, chairman of the museum committee, said in an interview.
He cautioned all museums to inspect any donated munitions to ensure they're inert before going into display cases.
The problem was uncovered last year during the visit of an explosives safety officer from Canadian Forces Base Halifax, who toured the museum on the lookout for any rogue ammunition.
The small facility is located on the second floor of a Second World War-era officers' mess built by the Americans in Pleasantville, a suburb north of downtown St. John's, N.L. It's currently the location of a Canadian Forces station.
The small museum and archives document the venerable history of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, which traces its origins to 1795 and saw horrific fighting in the First World War during the Battle of the Somme. The regiment was all but wiped out at Beaumont Hamel on July 1, 1916.
Visitors can view the collection of uniforms, medals, letters, photographs and other military memorabilia year-round by appointment.
The museum, created in the late 1970s, is not an official National Defence facility but as a tenant in a military building must abide by Canadian Forces rules, which require any display ammunition to be certified inert.
The official report into the incident notes that the still-dangerous British munitions - .303 cartridges and an 18-pounder fuse - were donated to the museum by a now-deceased soldier and a private citizen.
"Although the museum has been in existence for a long time, public knowledge of the displays and public access have been limited," says the document.
The facility, which receives between 500 and 600 visitors each year, must now undergo annual inspections for explosives safety.
Inspectors also found some suspicious ammunition at the Highlander Museum in Sydney, N.S., documenting the history of the 2nd Battalion, Nova Scotia Highlanders, based in Cape Breton.
Later examination found the 16 rounds to be inert but not properly labelled so.
The Canadian military instituted stricter controls over so-called dummy or inert ammunition in July 1974, when a live fragmentation grenade was accidentally mixed in with non-explosive training grenades at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier, Que.
The live grenade was detonated in an exercise, killing six cadets and injuring more than 40 others.
In 2007, the Canadian Forces created a new directorate to promote ammunition safety.
Last year, ammunition accidents injured 34 people in the military, the highest level in a decade and reflecting a rising number of occurrences that involve human error.

Organizations: Newfoundland museum, Canadian Forces, Royal Newfoundland Regiment Museum Canadian Press National Defence Highlander Museum

Geographic location: OTTAWA, Pleasantville, St. John's Sydney Cape Breton Canadian Forces Base Valcartier, Que

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