Anthony Charlwood – ‘Charlie’ to his colleagues – had a long and varied career as a bomb disposal expert in the occupation of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), first with the Royal Navy and later with Non-Government Organisations on freelance contracts all over the world.
Dealing with ordnance (bombs, mines and other weapons left behind after an armed conflict) took Charlie to many of the world’s political hot-spots, and in this book he shares some of his most extraordinary experiences with his readers.
These have included such tasks as clearing up in Kuwait after the first Gulf War – a massive job, hampered by hundreds of burning oil wells and lakes of burning oil in a landscape resembling Dante’s Inferno; clearing the Shatel-el-Arab waterway in Iraq and harbours of thousands of unexploded Allied bombs in 1992; retrieving explosives from the sea bed in Lebanon, Singapore and the Gilbert Islands before rendering them safe. Then there was mine clearance in Mozambique and Kosovo, or the time Charlie and his colleagues were attacked by bandits in Somalia and left stranded in the bush...
Despite its obvious dangers, Charlie clearly enjoyed his work and his book highly readable and entertaining. There are plenty of humorous incidents too... such as the time in Hong Kong in the late 1960s when Charlie accidentally blew Dennis Healey (then Defence Minister) out of bed...
Charlie is particularly keen to dispel the idea that bomb disposal is carried out by the steely-eyed, square-jawed types you see depicted in the movies. "EOD-men are just ordinary blokes with an extraordinary job to do," he says. He also plays down any ideas of Hollywood-style bravery, preferring to put an emphasis on teamwork and cooperation. "In EOD, your life literally depends on your colleagues. There’s no room for heroes. What counts is good training, following the correct procedures, concentration ... and the occasional bit of luck."
His own lengthy career in one of the world’s most dangerous professions would seem to indicate that he followed this advice, although, like all EOD men, he can recount many close shaves and lucky escapes.
Reading of the activities of Charlie and his colleagues will make anyone who enjoys a comparatively safe and mundane profession grateful for their lot. They should also be grateful that these brave men are out there somewhere, making the world a safer place for the rest of us to live in.