As the Gravell family enjoyed a day out at their local beach, they stumbled across a metal sphere that they believed to be a buoy. And the clan were fascinated with the washed-up item – mainly because of the many barnacles that had lodged themselves to its side. But as the Gravell children posed happily beside the curiosity for their mom, they had no idea how dangerous the item was – nor its potential to turn deadly.
The Gravells – mom Kelly, dad Gareth and kids Erin and Ellis – hail from the coastal town of Burry Port in Carmarthenshire, Wales. And when Kelly and Gareth aren’t busy with their waste management company, they enjoy trips out to the beach with their children – much like many parents who live by the shore.
Luckily for the Gravell clan, then, Burry Port boasts its very own beach that overlooks the Gower Peninsula. And as the town’s name suggests, the location was formerly home to a busy shipping port that transported Welsh coal onwards from the local valleys. Today, by contrast, it’s less industrial and is mainly known as a local beauty spot.
Along with that picturesque beach, Burry Port’s coastline boasts a pretty marina complete with a quaint lighthouse. And the area is not only used as a base for pleasure craft and watersports businesses, but it’s also popular with cyclists and walkers owing to its position on the 13-mile Millennium Coastal Path.
To the Gravell kids, though, their local beach was likely just a place for fun. After all, there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had by playing in the golden sand, paddling in the waves or exploring the curiosities that can appear along the shore. And thanks to these many diversions, even an average day out by the sea has the potential to be memorable.
That said, one of the excursions that the Gravells took in August 2015 may have proved more eventful than most. During that month, the family of four made the best of the good weather that their area was enjoying and visited the beach on a day out. Gareth even marked the occasion with a photo that he later shared to his Facebook page.
In the image, which was posted to Facebook in 2015, Gareth is seen waving at the camera while Erin and Ellis both flash double thumbs-ups. All three of them are posing in their swimwear against a backdrop of blue sky, sparkling water and golden sand. And in the accompanying caption, Gareth wrote, “No place like home! Kids love Burry Port on a nice day!”
At the time that the photograph was taken, little Erin was just six years old, while her younger brother, Ellis, was four. And it appears that the kids found something to occupy them on the beach that day. In 2015 Kelly explained to ABC News, “My children took their boogie boards down, and we were going out to the sea.”
During their day out at the beach, however, the Gravells noticed something unusual sitting on the sand. And as the strange item piqued the interest of both the parents and the kids, the whole clan decided to investigate. “We saw a large object on the beach, so we thought we’d have a little look,” Kelly recalled.
The mass in question had seemingly washed up onto the beach from the sea. It was also round in shape, which led the family to believe that the object they were looking at was simply a buoy. What really caught the Gravells’ eyes, though, was the large number of barnacles that were attached to the curiosity.
All in all, then, the Gravells found themselves drawn towards the buoy-like item. Proud parents Kelly and Gareth even took pictures of Erin and Ellis posing beside the seemingly harmless object. And in the resulting images, the children can be seen smiling happily into the camera lens – blissfully unaware of how dangerous the shot is.
Explaining what had attracted them to the buoy, Kelly later told ABC News, “We were more fascinated by the barnacles on it.” And it seems that little Ellis, in particular, wanted to get a closer look at the otherworldly item. Kelly added, “My son was touching it and was knocking on it a little bit.”
Gareth also appeared to be taken with the mysterious object – enough to capture it on camera through a film that he subsequently shared on Facebook. In the footage, his wife and children can be seen eyeing the “buoy” up from a couple of feet away. Gareth even captures the moment when little Ellis nervously reaches out his finger to touch the curiosity’s barnacle-covered base.
Then, alongside the video, Gareth wrote on Facebook, “Ellis was fascinated with the ‘sea monster’ washed up in Burry Port beach!” The dad’s sweet post attracted a number of reactions and comments, too. At the time, though, Gareth was seemingly unaware that the “sea monster” he’d encountered was indeed something to be feared.
Indeed, as little Ellis reached out to touch the object, Gareth and Kelly had no reason to prevent the little boy from being inquisitive. If the parents had known that the “buoy” was in fact deadly, however, they may well have thought twice about getting so close. That’s right: the couple and their children had all had a lucky escape from a dangerous weapon.
Yes, through their proximity to the object, the Gravells had put themselves in harm’s way – although they didn’t actually realize this until five days after their trip to the beach. It was then, you see, that a friend contacted the clan upon learning of the true nature of the “buoy” in their photos.
Yet it turned out that the Gravells weren’t the only people to have taken an interest in the washed-up object, as the round item had also been noticed by officials from Carmarthenshire County Council. Just like Kelly, Gareth and their kids, however, the council workers also believed the detritus to be a buoy.
Then, in 2015, Carmarthenshire County Council press and communications officer Allison Thomas-David revealed the true identity of the sphere to ABC. “It very much looks like a buoy, which we get on the regular, but around it was gooseneck barnacles,” she said. “Of course, as the barnacles started dropping off, that’s when we could see writings exposed.”
And although Thomas-David didn’t elaborate on what the newly discovered inscription had said, she confirmed that the words had revealed the deadly truth of the object. As a result, then, the item needed to be destroyed to avoid anyone being harmed. “[It] was picked up by the coastguard who then notified the bomb squad,” the council employee revealed.
You see, the strange mass with which the Gravell family had interacted was in fact an unexploded United States military mine. The bomb was also reportedly 70 years old, which dated it back to around the time of World War Two. And even though the exact model of the weapon wasn’t clear, it had become obvious to investigators that the “buoy” was indeed some kind of explosive.
So, upon realizing the potential danger that the mine posed, officials cleared the beach to ensure the safety of the general public. “Obviously, we evacuated the beach straight away,” Thomas-David told ABC. “[Then the mine was] detonated in a controlled explosion [at] 6:00 p.m. [on] Monday evening.”
News of the discovery of the decades-old explosive reached others in the area, too, as the nearby Pembrey County Park reported the incident in an August 2015 Facebook post. The park’s message read, “West Beach at Burry Port Harbour is closed temporarily due to military mine found washed up.” And after the warning was up on the social media site, it soon became clear that the Gravells weren’t the only people who’d crossed paths with the mine.
One comment posted below the Pembrey Country Park update read, “My wife walked the dog [past the object] early this morning and then reported it to the coastguard. [The coastguard] later phoned her back to confirm it was a 2nd World War mine and then cordoned off the beach and called the bomb squad.”
Then, of course, the old mine was quickly destroyed in a controlled explosion that was carried out by the U.K’s Royal Navy. The detonation was quite the event in a small town like Burry Port, with hundreds of people gathered behind a cordon in order to witness the blast. And among the watching crowd were the Gravell family.
As the onlookers cheered and clapped when the mine went up in smoke, though, the Gravells looked at one another in complete alarm. After all, if things had worked out differently, that fireball could potentially have consumed them. It was lucky, then, that the clan had escaped unharmed from their encounter with the mine.
Summing up the family’s feelings while watching the controlled detonation, Kelly told CBS News, “We were thinking, ‘We’re really glad that didn’t happen at the beach.’” There was also some concern for the barnacles that the Gravells had so admired – on Ellis’ part, anyway. Apparently, the boy had inquired, “Are the little animals on there okay, mummy?”
Then, following the detonation, a video of a bomb disposal team clearing the mine was posted to YouTube in August 2015. The accompanying caption, which was written by Robert Masterman, read, “A little drama at Burry Port today when a WW2 explosive device was washed up on the local beach after being found on some nearby sandbanks over the weekend.”
But while that was that for the mine, the Gravell family continued to relive their brush with the explosive. And the clan were apparently stunned that the big metal ball they’d posed beside had actually been dangerous. “We get things washed up all the time, so we thought it was a buoy,” Kelly explained to ABC News. “We never thought for one second it was a bomb.” The mom also couldn’t help but think that the encounter with the mine may very well have turned out differently.
“The realization that [the mine] was a bomb – it was completely shocking for us,” Kelly admitted. “We realize now just how lucky we were.” The parent also confirmed that she’d be much more careful in the future when approaching unknown items that had seemingly washed up on the beach.
Gareth, on the other hand, managed to keep a good sense of humor about his family’s brush with the potentially deadly mass. After discovering the truth about the object, he tweeted, “So the buoy my kids were jumping on all weekend turns out to be a WWII bomb. Oops.”
And when talking to The Daily Telegraph in 2015, Kelly explained just how her family had reached the mine in the first place. She revealed, “The tide was up, so we discovered what we later learned was the bomb – [although at first] we just thought it was a buoy. We were more interested in the barnacles on it, and the kids were looking at them, while Gareth noticed that it had a chain on.”
Kelly also recalled a flippant remark that she’d made about the appearance of the object. “I even made the joke that it was a big bomb at the time but did not think anything of it,” she added. “It’s only afterwards when the reality has set in that we were actually very lucky. We were close to disaster; it’s shocking.”
But while the Gravells’ run-in with the unexploded bomb may have been too close for comfort, it hasn’t put them off their local beach. “I wouldn’t be worried about going back, but we will definitely be more cautious when we do,” Kelly told The Daily Telegraph.
Furthermore, Kelly said that the experience had taught her a valuable lesson. “I’ve heard of things being washed up on the beach before – but nothing like this,” she explained. “We’ll definitely think twice before messing with something like that in future… We [also] went down for a look to see [the mine] get blown up.”
But even though Kelly’s time at the beach had given her cause to reflect, it had also yielded a priceless snap to post on Facebook. So, after uploading the photo of her kids posing beside the mine, the mom wrote on the social networking site, “Erin and Ellis with WWII Bomb covered in Gooseneck Barnacles, washed up at Burry Port Beach!” And needless to say, the striking image struck a chord with some of her friends and family online.
Yes, Kelly’s Facebook post clocked up plenty of reactions and comments – with many displaying either shock or amusement. One user wrote, for example, “Omg I can’t believe this, Kelly.” Another added, “Mad lol… def a photo to come out when they’re 18, getting married, etc.”
And commenting beneath the photo, another one of Kelly’s friends wrote, “That must have been scary.” The mom of two couldn’t claim that she or her family had been frightened, however, and she replied, “Not scary at the time, as we were none the wiser. We were more interested in the rare gooseneck barnacles attached to it, although now we know it’s an unexploded WWII Bomb… I’m feeling very lucky that it didn’t go BOOM!”
Meanwhile, following the controlled explosion, Carmarthenshire councillor Meryl Gravell issued a statement on the matter. The message read, “I would like to reassure the public that we have taken the appropriate action. We apologize for any inconvenience whilst the beach is temporarily closed.”
Still, if the councillor had hoped to keep details of the mine within the county, she had no such luck. Once news of the Burry Port bomb had got out, it soon spread from the small Welsh town all the way across the Atlantic to the United States. The dangerous find was even covered by major news outlets such as CBS and ABC.
And while Kelly was quite surprised by the attention that her family’s near-miss with the mine received, she has nevertheless conceded that it was an interesting story. All in all, the incident remains a great “what-if” situation for herself, her husband and her children – and a tale that will no doubt stay with them for the rest of their lives.