Jam Tins 2

Empey had volunteered to go to bombing school, and thus found himself a member of another Suicide Club. “It all depends where you are as to what you are called. In France they call you a “bomber” and give you medals, while in neutral countries they call you an anarchist and give you “life.” (1)

1916 03 30 bombers.JPG

“92nd Bombing class busy mixing powder and mud, with a few inches of fuse;- the result [with the addition of shrapnel] is a bomb”

He described the construction and use of jam tin bombs in some detail:

“Tommy would stoop down, get an empty ‘jam tin,’ take a handful of clayey mud from the parapet, and line the inside of the tin with this substance. Then he would reach over, pick up his detonator and explosive, and insert them in the tin, the fuse protruding. On the fire step would be a pile of fragments of shell, shrapnel balls, bits of iron, nails, etc.—anything that was hard enough to send over to Fritz ; he would scoop up a handful of this junk and put it in the bomb.” (2) Sometimes, he added, bystanders would offer a button off a tunic or a rusted bit of broken pocketknife to be added to the mix and sent over to the German lines “as a souvenir.” (2)

The dangers arose because the fuze was unpredictable: the “chief delight” of a bomb, wrote Empey, “is to explode before it leaves your hand.” (3) Once that fuze was lit therefore, Tommy wanted to get rid of “the infernal device” as soon as possible, despite orders to count to three before hurling it over the parapet. An unexploded jam tin was sometimes returned by Germans to the trench from which it had come, where it would, finally, explode. Members of the Suicide Club could get it both coming and going.

1916 03 30 bomb sticks.JPG

“Throwing bomb sticks. They are made of iron with wooden handles, the same weight as a bomb.”

Empey’s view was that when the authorities realized that they could not change Tommy’s fear of the jam tin, they had better change the bomb, and developed the “hairbrush,” the “cricket ball,” and eventually, the Mills bomb. (4)




(1) Empey, Arthur Guy. Over the Top by an American Soldier who Went. 1918. 78-79
(2) Empey. 80
(3) Empey. 284
(4) Empey. 83.

The images and the descriptions are from John Boyd’s First World War Photographs, City of Toronto Archives. A “bomb stick” is probably the same as a “hair brush,” defined by Empey as “shaped like a hair brush and … thrown by the handle. Tommy used to throw them over to the Germans for their morning toilette.” (294)

Copyright 2016. See “More about this project.”



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