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Metal Detectors on France


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#1 KIRKY

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Posted 28 February 2004 - 12:43 PM

Hi

I am off to The Somme in 10 days and whenever I mention this to friends I am asked do you metal detect? Although I own one I would never take it to France as a respect thing although I do pick certain items off the battlefields like buckles, bullets etc.

I was wondering if any Pals know of cases where users of detectors have in fact been prosecuted by the French police as this is always the threat?

I know that most local collectors on the Somme use detectors and I also know that many UK visitors use them including members of the Pals so is it a myth that this is the fate to befall detectors?

I have also seen mentioned that it is against French law to even pick up an artifact from the field, again is this true and if so is it enforced?

Tony

#2 Max Poilu

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Posted 28 February 2004 - 03:00 PM

QUOTE
I am off to The Somme in 10 days and whenever I mention this to friends I am asked do you metal detect? Although I own one I would never take it to France as a respect thing although I do pick certain items off the battlefields like buckles, bullets etc.


This is a hugely controversial issue; not the use of metal detectors on the battlefields (which I believe no-one here supports), but the actual collecting of relics from the fields - both for archeological and ethical reasons. Have a search through the archives for some lengthy previous descussions.

Metal detecting is certainly illegal on the battlefields and there are documented cases of prosecutions, most notably in Verdun I believe.

I am not sure if there is any problem with using a metal detector on one's own land in France?

I also understand that under French law, technically it is illegal to pick up even so much as a shrapnel ball or piece of rusty iron shrapnel.

On the other hand as any visitor to French fairs will know they are stacked with relics, ordanance and other items from the fields - and amongst the collectors will be many local French Policemen!

I think it is unlikely you would be accosted on the battlefields (unless you are carrying spades/picks etc!) but many people have suffered at the hands of French customs at Dover etc. One such case was reported in the Armourer last year.

#3 paul guthrie

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Posted 28 February 2004 - 03:02 PM

I have seen a man under arrest in the Argonne for picking up things.

#4 ianw

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Posted 28 February 2004 - 03:03 PM

I think use of metal detectors is illegal in many parts of France. Paul Reed has mentioned it before. That said France is a big place and I presume that local people may get cut some slack in the unlikely event that they were discovered. I suspect that a foreigner might not be so lucky.

The problem as I see it is that detecting always just rips metal objects out of their context to the certain detriment of identifying any human remains associated with these objects. I am not 100% against the recovery of the objects per se since I think many will simply decay over time and will never be recovered by formal excavation - I know many people disagree strongly with this view.

#5 Paul Reed

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Posted 28 February 2004 - 04:07 PM

The Somme police, as in the Pas de Calais and Nord, are beginning to get VERY strict about this. A couple of Somme 'collectors' have had their collections confiscated because of activities of this sort and several English people have been pulled for using detectors, which is STRICTLY (and without exception) against the Law.

Technically the removal of any item, even a shrapnel ball, from a field is illegal and renders you liable to prosecution... but I suspect not many cases for the 'shrapnel ball thiefs' would make the courts...

Remember there is no such thing as 'The Police' in France; among other branches of it, there are local forces. The Gendarmerie de Combles on the Somme is particularly hot on this and I have some American friends who were carted off just for field walking; no shovels, picks or detectors, but they did have items they had picked up.

Please do bear this in mind.

#6 ypresman

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Posted 28 February 2004 - 08:17 PM

I think personally this is a French/English thing, as I've been accosted many a time by the French 'police', for basically walking over a field. In Belgium, over the last 12 years, not so much as a whimper from them, as they seem to be firm but fair, respect the battlefields, they respect you, but the French........
Thats why I stick to Belgium biggrin.gif ....

#7 Max

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Posted 28 February 2004 - 08:29 PM

QUOTE (ypresman @ Sat, 28 Feb 2004 20:17:39 +0000)
for basically walking over a field.

To be fair, if I had hordes of strangers tramping over my land I would be fairly arsed off as well. Asking permission from the landowner first stops trouble in its tracks.

Andy

#8 ianw

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Posted 28 February 2004 - 08:31 PM

I think the French authorities must be on the right lines. If it was open season can you imagine what a state the whole Somme area would be in. Perhaps the Belgian attitude is too laissez faire. That said, I wouldn't think it acceptable to stop people simply for walking the line of an attack or similar.

#9 ypresman

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Posted 28 February 2004 - 08:42 PM

QUOTE (Max @ Sat, 28 Feb 2004 20:29:14 +0000)
To be fair, if I had hordes of strangers tramping over my land I would be fairly arsed off as well. Asking permission from the landowner first stops trouble in its tracks.

I take my job very seriously, I DO NOT just happen to walk over anyones land, I always know where I'm going, and always on a tourist route or WITH the landowners discretion. The Belgians are not more laxed, they are more fair minded, than the French, and I've always been 'questioned' whist away from these sites. Why then if the battlefields are to be protected, as they should, do the French follow you for 20 miles and then pick you up at the Border, why don't they chase you off the site there and then. I'm talking about my own experiences in France and the French attitude I've experienced over the last 12 years..

#10 Max

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Posted 28 February 2004 - 08:50 PM

QUOTE (ypresman @ Sat, 28 Feb 2004 20:42:07 +0000)
I DO NOT just happen to walk over anyones land, I always know where I'm going, and always on a tourist route or WITH the landowners discretion.

Thats me told....What I don't understand is, if you are walking in designated areas or with the landowners consent why are the French police harrassing you? Are you saying that they are just being malicious?

Andy

#11 ypresman

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Posted 28 February 2004 - 09:03 PM

Basically, YES. Was told by a French friend in France that the local 'Gendarme' do not like the tourists in the region, due to the fact they favour their own guides etc, and also its too much hassle to police them. If any of the local farmers, diggers, traders & whatever take a disliking to you, put in a report and you are a frequent visitor to the area, they will basically hound you. I have taken , over the last 12 years, 156 coach parties over there. 46 of them have been to france, I have been stopped 21 times in this time, all within the last 4 years. Now I could go into this in a lot more detail, but I won't as I don't wanna turn this into a witchunt and also I need to go back, but all I can say is BE VERY CAREFUL IN FRANCE

#12 Paul Reed

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Posted 28 February 2004 - 09:52 PM

QUOTE (ypresman @ Sat, 28 Feb 2004 21:03:57 +0000)
Basically, YES. Was told by a French friend in France that the local 'Gendarme' do not like the tourists in the region, due to the fact they favour their own guides etc, and also its too much hassle to police them. If any of the local farmers, diggers, traders & whatever take a disliking to you, put in a report and you are a frequent visitor to the area, they will basically hound you.

I'm sorry, but I have never heard so much rubbish in my life. You can think what you like, the LAW is the LAW. If you break it regularly or infringe it, no matter what rights you believe you have, you deserve all you get. This smacks of the 'little Englander' and does a dis-service to the many French friends members of this forum have, and the many French contributors we have.

#13 ypresman

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Posted 28 February 2004 - 11:45 PM

QUOTE (Paul Reed @ Sat, 28 Feb 2004 21:52:21 +0000)
I'm sorry, but I have never heard so much rubbish in my life. You can think what you like, the LAW is the LAW. If you break it regularly or infringe it, no matter what rights you believe you have, you deserve all you get. This smacks of the 'little Englander' and does a dis-service to the many French friends members of this forum have, and the many French contributors we have.

THIS is My opinion, this is MY experience, This is what I have come across. You have no right to, basically , call me a liar, call me racist, I have NOTHING AGAINST the French, but only the authorities I have come across. I DO NOT break the law, but the French authorities bend the rules when they like, this is FACT(like every other country). I thought this forum was for the members to say they thoughts without the critisism I have just experienced......

#14 ArmyOfficer

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Posted 29 February 2004 - 07:43 AM

As an American I will gladly offer my services to anyone who would like lessons on getting along well with the French

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#15 Terry_Reeves

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Posted 29 February 2004 - 08:03 AM

Right folks, let's let this one cool off a bit. It is not worth getting that excited about.

Terry Reeves

#16 Paul Reed

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Posted 29 February 2004 - 11:11 AM

QUOTE (ypresman @ Sat, 28 Feb 2004 23:45:16 +0000)
I thought this forum was for the members to say they thoughts without the critisism I have just experienced......

Okay Terry.

But I would only comment on Ypresman's coments above to say yes, say what you want, but don't expect people to agree with you or not too offer a different opinion when you make a contentious comment.

#17 KIRKY

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Posted 29 February 2004 - 11:37 AM

ohmy.gif
Hi as the originator of this theme I am amazed at some of the comments!

I have been visiting The Somme area for 6 years now and never met anything but friendly, helpful locals. We walk the fields both on and off tourist routes and if we see a farmer try to communicate with them although we have never yet gone directly to a farm to get permission as we have no idea who owns which bit of land.

Reading some of the comments could put off people from visiting the area.

all we do is take care where crops are, try and walk on edge of field and never go on land that has seedlings. however, we made a mistake a couple of years ago and ended up in a seeded field. The farmer came to see us and was fine and showed us where we could walk.

Biggest threat I have had in the Somme area is from Brits who have had too much to drink!!

Take my word for it it is a great place to visit.

tony

#18 ypresman

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Posted 29 February 2004 - 12:03 PM

Listen,
Firstly I never intentionely meant to put people off the area, as I've enjoyed my time there. These were ISOLATED incidents.I find the french on the whole very friendly. Secondly, this is my own private experience of travelling that area. I was giving MY thoughts. I never asked anyone to jump in and critisize what I said. Now surely, at some time in thier lives people have come across this sort of thing before, whether it be in England, France etc, this is not an ideal world,and also disagree with the fact it was a contensious comment. Mr Reed you have your thoughts, I have mine, I don't think for one moment you'd expect me to critisize and label you for your thoughts.
Can we leave it at that, and draw a line under the whole thing.
Thank you.

#19 Max Poilu

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Posted 29 February 2004 - 12:13 PM

I have to agree with Kirky - as I said at the begining "technically it is illegal to pick up even so much as a shrapnel ball or piece of rusty iron shrapnel."

Anyway, you are unlikely to get arrested for a few relics - just use common sense. I too have walked the fields for many years and with no problems. Stay away from crops, seedlings and out of bounds areas. I have met many farmers in the fields and all were friendly, even sharing their pick-ups.

But if you see the Gendarmes or whatever keep a low profile - there is definitely a bit of anti-English feeling prevelent in certain Frenchmen especially authority figures. This is not racist it is a fact and the reverse is also true - but less so wink.gif

#20 BottsGreys

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Posted 29 February 2004 - 04:41 PM

To throw a less contentious angle on the topic, I am curious as to the reason(s) for the French ban on relic hunting. I know this probably calls for conjecture, but do you believe that it is it more a case of wanting to preserve the physical integrity/heritage of the battlefields, or is it a wariness that someone might pick up unexploded ordnance, etc?

By the way, if you are caught metal detecting w/o permission on privately-held Civil War battlefield land here in the U.S. , you will most likely just get chased off or charged with trespass (if the land is posted). However, the National Park Service (NPS) is super strict about the battlefields it superintends--Antietam, Shiloh, Gettysburg, and a host of others. If you get caught metal detecting on NPS land they will arrest you without fail, confiscate your metal detecting equipment, and you will subsequently be prosecuted in federal court. If you drove onto the battlefield to do your illegal dig, they will move to confiscate your vehicle as well. This is on top of any monetary fines/jail time imposed. At Manassas Battlefield several years ago, a park ranger watched a fellow walk up and down a dry wash, eyeballing for bullets, etc., after watching him for a while, the ranger arrested the guy for relic hunting although he didn't have a metal detector nor, I think, had he even picked up anything.

Chris

#21 Tim Birch

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Posted 29 February 2004 - 05:20 PM

I agree with Kiky's comments.

Late last summer I was visiting the Sheffield Memorial Park at Serre with 2 friends. We had parked on the road verge to avoid causing any obstruction on the track to the farmer who was collecting bales. Each time he passed us he waved cheerily. After several passes with his trailer ladden with bales, he stopped and jumping down from his tractor came over to us bearing a perfect brass shell fuse cone he had just found. He insisted that we should keep it, and then chatted to us in broken English with us responding in broken French. The whole exchange couldn't have been more friendly and there wasn't a hint of intolerance on his part.

Tim

#22 healdav

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Posted 01 March 2004 - 09:18 AM

Can I say that if the French police of whatever sort find you using a met al detector on ANY battlefield (not just WW1) and removing any relic of any significance (I doubt that shrapnel balls would matter) then you coan with certainty look forward to fines running into the £10,000 or so mark (depending on the Euro rate) and even a prison term as well.

This applies especially at the bigger sites such as Verdun where they try to keep a very strict watch.

They are not too concerned if you are taking small things, but they will drop like a ton of bricks on the idiots who try to take complete shells home (and people die every year from doing just this), and even more heavily on the ghouls who collect human remains.

Where there are signs saying 'don't leave the path' or whatever, it is usually a pretty good warning that the battlefield is just that and that you are quite likely still to find the ground strewn with unexploded shells of every shape and size. The haute Chevauchée for example, has areas with more UXB lying around that the British army has available for battle.


Basically, don't do it and be prepared to be stopped by the police if they think you are acting suspiciously (walking around the battlefields in a thunderstorm could well be construed as this, as they will tend to think that you are collecting then on the grounds that the Police will be sheltering!

Of course, if the fines and threat of imprisonemtn (and the maxima are handed down several tiems every year) don't deter you, then carry on (for a time).

#23 Geoff Parker

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Posted 03 March 2004 - 09:11 AM

Slightly aside from the main issue here. Earlier in the year I overheard a
conversion between two dealers regarding the purchasing ordnance
at European militaria fairs, (particularly France). Apparently plain clothes
customers offices mingle with the buyers, any Brits buying these items are
followed outside and their cars licence plate is noted and phoned ahead to
customers officers at the docks. When the buyers duly arrive they are prompted
attested.

This is the apparent cause of the closure of Dover docks for 12 hours last
year when arms were found in a vehicle. Whether this is true or just a rumour
I'm not sure. But certainly the incident has never been mentioned again by
the media, which I'm sure it would have been had they been terrorists. Obviously
bringing European de-acts back into Britain is illegal because they do not meet the
UK proof house requirements, but apparently this also applies to shells/bombs etc.

So be warned.

Geoff

#24 KIRKY

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Posted 03 March 2004 - 09:27 AM

As a follow on to last message, there seems to be "tales" of collectors being stopped, arrested, followed etcetc as a result of collecting war debris.

Has anyone on this forum actually suffered from this treatment or are we developing an urban myth?

We were stopped last March at the Tunnel and subjected to a discussion about where we had been etc etc and a complete car search. We had lots of war debris in a box but they did not seem interested in this stuff. They asked us all about the Somme and where we visited and stayed.

We lond ago stopped bringing anything live or dodgy back to the UK- see my thread on Graze no 1 fuze to see why!!

Tony

#25 Max Poilu

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Posted 03 March 2004 - 10:42 AM

QUOTE
As a follow on to last message, there seems to be "tales" of collectors being stopped, arrested, followed etcetc as a result of collecting war debris.

Has anyone on this forum actually suffered from this treatment or are we developing an urban myth


I do not think it is an urban myth. There was a well documented story in last years Armourer of one particular chap who had the book thrown at him - stopped at French customs in Calais with the usuual inert ordanance etc. Locked up, arrested and interviewed by some very serious people in France...

I have heard first hand accounts from fellow collectors/dealers who have also lost literally thousands of pounds of 'goods'. The import laws certainly seem to be open to interpration by the customs authorities. Some people declare inert ordanance and are told "why did you bother to declare this?!" others are treated as a would be 'Bin Laden.

Things have changed a lot since 9/11, I would not bring anything remotely suspicious back now. Shrapnel balls and empty brass shell cases no problem but not fuses, empty shells, empty bullet cartridges etc - just not worth the potential hassle.

Geoff, I understand as you say, Euro de-act laws regarding firearms not being acceptable in the UK but I am not aware of a specific de-act process applying to shells etc? Surely as long as the shell can be seen to be 100% empty, the case also and the primer removed that would suffice?

The whole area is a real grey one - you probably know that Belgian guy who sells in the UK - especially at War and Peace and Military Odyssey - he brings some 400+ shells into the UK - last year he had complete boxes of Great War German Eggs and even a complete box of VB's! He's not the only one, some of the other big Euro dealers had stands looking like a scene from a WWII arms dump...

I don't know about the spies in French fairs, sounds a bit far fetched especially as they should not by law allow the stuff to be traded in the first place. But I do know one of the Belgian guy's fellow dealers was followed to Beltring and intervied by the police. Pesumably someone is out there watching...