On the 10th anniversary of the international ban on cluster bombs (Convention on Cluster Munitions) entering into force, long-time MAG supporter, writer and broadcaster Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent shared her experiences in Southeast Asia with From Our Own Correspondent on BBC Radio 4, introduced by former War Correspondent Kate Adie.
During the Second Indochina War between 1955 and 1975, Southeast Asia, became one of the most bombed regions in the world.
It is estimated that between 10 and 30 per cent of the bombs failed to explode on impact. And those that failed to kill quickly have laid dormant, killing slowly and indiscriminately. Today, more than four decades after the conflict ended, unexploded bombs continue to claim the lives of women, men, girls and boys, many of whom were born long after the peace resumed.
In 2013, Antonia decided to ride a motorcycle down the Ho Chi Minh Trail— a vital supply line for North Vietnamese forces during the war. With nothing but a 25-year old Honda Cub known as the Pink Panther for company, Antonia set off south from Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, through some of the remotest regions of Southeast Asia.
Antonia passed on the tourist-friendly, tarmac version of the Trail between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and instead followed the route taken by thousands of North Vietnamese during the war, over the Truong Son Mountains into Laos, and even tracing it further south still into the eastern reaches of Cambodia.
As an experienced traveller, Antonia knew that she would face the possibility of malaria, dengue fever, dysentery and a plethora of creepy crawlies. It was not until she was already en route, however, that she also discovered the threat of the unexploded bombs littering her route.
During her travels, Antonia battled through inhospitable terrain and faced multiple breakdowns. She remembers it as a journey which ranged from the hilarious to the terrifying, during which she encountered village chiefs, illegal loggers, former American fighter pilots, and young women whose children had been killed by unexploded bombs. Speaking to Radio 4, Antonia recounts her own encounter with a cluster bomb she found while walking through the forest.
Antonia lived to tell the tale but, as so many people do not, she feels lucky to be alive.
During her six week two-wheeled adventure, which ended in Ho Chi Minh City, Antonia raised funds for MAG to help us deploy more clearance teams across Southeast Asia and around the world.
“It was shocking to see how contaminated Laos is, so many years after the war,” Antonia says. “I met people whose children had been killed by bombies and whose land was unfarmable due to unexploded bombs – things we can’t even contemplate. Thank goodness for organisations like MAG and the wonderful work they do."
Antonia is now an advocate for MAG and works to raise awareness of our life-saving, life-changing work wherever possible.
If you would like to learn more about Antonia’s trip, you can listen to her BBC Radio 4 report here. And the book A Short Ride in the Jungle is available to buy on physical and digital platforms now.