Metal and memories of World War 2

On occasion, we find mysterious artefacts in our collections. In this case, an old bullet. Curator of Artefacts Glenn Benson finds out more...

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The said WW2 bullet in our collection

The Linnean Society of London holds several metal objects within the collections such as medals, microscopes…and sometimes, even bullets. But thankfully, this bullet only had two of the three required parts for it to work – the casing and the projectile. Missing, fortunately, was the explosive propellant.

The headstamp on this 20mm shell casing shows that it was made by the Lincolnshire-based firm of the British Manufacture & Research Company (BMRAC), a subsidiary of the Swiss engineering firm Hispano-Suiza. BMARC specialised in the production of aircraft, and naval anti-aircraft cannons. The IZ stamped on the bullet casing stands for “nitro cellulose powder”, the projectile propellant made by Imperial Chemical Industries Limited, better known as ICI.

BMRAC famously produced the munitions for the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Spitfire and Hurricane fighter aircraft. These planes are inextricably linked to both World War II, and the close-combat aerial “dog-fights” that took place over the UK between July and October 1940, known as “The Battle of Britain”. In September 1940, the German air force or LuftWaffe turned its attention away from bombing RAF installations and instead bombed London. From 7 September 1940, London was bombed for 57 consecutive nights.

The Society’s rooms were not hit.

But the surrounding area was. This was depicted in Graham Greene’s book ‘The Ministry of Fear’. One of the characters, Arthur Rowe, recounts his experiences of the bombing of London:

I’m hiding underground, and up above the Germans are methodically smashing London to bits all around me. You remember St Clement’s – the bells of St Clement’s. They’ve smashed that – St James’s, Piccadilly, the Burlington Arcade, Garland’s Hotel, where we stayed for the pantomime, Maples and John Lewis. It sounds like a thriller doesn’t it, but the thrillers are like life…

We don’t know how or why these bullets came into the possession of the Society; perhaps they were picked up by a member of staff as a souvenir after a raid. But 80 years after being discharged to defend the capital against enemy fire, this unusual metal artefact now sits peacefully in our collection.