According to Friday’s Guardian British biological warfare scientists developed a poisoned dart to rain down on enemy troops during the second world war and used sewing machine needles to make prototypes.
A "most secret" War Office file, entitled "research into the use of anthrax and other poisons for biological warfare", shows that scientists at the Porton Down in Wiltshire were testing the use of poisoned darts to be dropped in cluster bombs.
Trials on goats and sheep demonstrated that even if the dart was removed, the victim was likely to collapse within five minutes. Where the dose was lethal, death followed within 30 minutes.
At first, scientists used a few needles bought at a branch of the Singer sewing machine company in nearby Salisbury, but soon realised that local stocks would not be sufficient.In January 1942 the man leading Britain's wartime chemical weapons programme, Dr Paul Fildes, made a direct approach to the sewing company. His letter opened with: "It is a little difficult to explain what I want sewing machine needles for ... "
The scientists admitted that, once used, people would quickly learn that light cover – such as trees, aircraft and lorries – would give almost complete protection against the darts. They were part of a programme that saw testing of anthrax and led to the creation of a hidden arsenal of anti-crop sprays, poison gas and germ weapons that experts say the government have been at pains to play down ever since.
Interestingly it was only in the 1990s that Gruinard Island in NW Scotland was made safe. It had been used for biological warfare tests during WWII