Mills' medals to make a bomb

MEDALS owned by a Sunderland-born inventor whose bombs wreaked havoc inthe First World War are coming up for auction next week.

Sir William Mills invented the Mills bomb, the first modern hand grenade, used exclusively by Britain and her allies to deadly effect.

More than 76million Mills bombs were produced from 1915 onwards, including nearly four million by his own company.

But Sir William lost money on the contract, and never received preferential treatment over other manufacturers, although he did get 27,750 from the Royal Commission for his efforts.

He died in Weston-super-Mare in 1932.

On Friday next week, a Knight Bachelor's badge and a War Service Badge bestowed on Sir William, along with various correspondence, will go to the highest bidder at Bonhams, in London.

William Mills was born into a shipbuilding family in Sunderland in 1856, and privately educated before moving to Birmingham after a spell at sea.

A first-rate engineer and keen inventor, he established the UK's first aluminium foundry, but is best known for the Mills bomb.

Until then, grenades had often proved as deadly to the thrower as to the intended target.

The first grenade used when war broke out in 1914 was a cast-iron canister on an 18-inch stick, which was dangerous to use because it often caught the trench front when lobbed .

Sir William did extensive research into common design faults and came up with his own grenade, which had a central spring-loaded firing-pin and spring-loaded lever locked by a pin.

A four-second time fuse allowed the thrower to take cover before it exploded.

When the grenade went off the cast-iron casing shattered producing a shower of metal fragments.

A Bonhams spokesman said: "Artefacts relating to the First World War are increasingly in demand. It is estimated that his archive will fetch up to 1,500."