Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A toy that went Bang

The exploding Conker.
There has been an annual game played by the boys in Cookham for years every Autum, and did we ever realize that our toy was an ingredient for making the explosive "Cordite."
A message like this one, was received by Mr. G.H. Wood in September of 1942 at the Cookham Rise Secondary Modern School:

Collecting groups are being organized in your district. Groups of scholars are being organized to collect Horse Chestnuts. Receiving depots are being opened in most districts. Your school is a depot where 22/6 per cwt is being paid for immediate delivery of the chestnuts (without the outer green husks). This collection is invaluable war work and is very urgent.

We were told that it was to make toothpaste that would prevent tooth decay and the need to go to the dentist. That of course was not the truth, as during the First World War a Professor Weizmann had discovered a process in 1915 of how he could distill the Horse Chestnut into acetone to make the explosive cordite. Though no reference is made to this fact in World War Two records, the fact is that it did happen just for that year only.

There were a great many Horse Chestnut trees in the Maidenhead Court area and both Gerald Effamy and I collected quite a lot in a very short time, for which we thought, we made a handsome return for our efforts.

Horse Chestnuts were not the only wartime source of income for us, as we were encouraged to collect wild Rose Hips for the making of “Rosehip Syrup” for babies and toddlers.

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