AN UNEXPLODED First World War hand grenade was found hidden underneath a flowerpot – at a home that used to belong to a Nazi sympathiser.
Police were called to Sanderstead Hill on Sunday morning by a frightened homeowner, who discovered the device just a month after moving into the property.
A 100m exclusion zone was set up around the house and a church was forced to interrupt its Sunday service while the emergency services dealt with the century-old explosive.
The resident, who asked not to be named, said: "I was digging around in the garden at the back when I saw this dark green object with a yellow line round it.
"I immediately recognised it from the movies but couldn't believe what I was seeing – it even had the pin in it.
"I just thought, 'Oh, this is not happening – there are children running around the garden and I have no option but to call the police'.
"I was on hold to them for 20 minutes while they worked out what to do and then they said I had to get everyone inside – the grenade had a 30 metre killing range and a 100 metre shrapnel range."
Three fire engines from Croydon and one from Purley arrived at around 11am, just in case the grenade detonated and started a fire among the cluster of houses around the garden.
Purley watch manager Paul Barnett said: "The police were in charge of evacuating people from their houses and the bomb unit were called to deal with the grenade, but we were on call because no one knew if it was going to be a dangerous situation.
"It was from World War One and was still intact – we have not seen this kind of thing for years."
The grenade's discoverer explained how the police cordoned off the entire area around the house and then called in "Croydon's version of The Hurt Locker".
"Actually, it was just one man – it was all very quiet and efficient," said the homeowner. "He came in, went up to the grenade and defused it.
"I have no idea how it got there. I think someone, just like me, had no idea what to do with it and just hid it at the back of the garden."
However, the family's neighbour, who knew the previous occupants, had other ideas – giving the story a more sinister turn.
The neighbour told the Advertiser: "An old couple used to live there. The man died around ten years ago and he once told me he bought the Jewish Chronicle because he 'wanted to know what the enemy were saying'.
"He had Nazi memorabilia in the house. I know the grenade was from the First World War but maybe he collected that too."
The neighbour described the scene as "exceptionally surreal," adding: "Most of the firefighters and police officers look pretty bewildered and the evacuation was quite haphazard – people were just milling about."
The United Reformed Church, in Sanderstead Hill, had its Sunday service interrupted, with the 100 people present advised to go home by a police officer, but they decided to carry on with proceedings despite the scare.
Police say they are not conducting any criminal investigations and do not intend to probe how and why the grenade was found in a residential garden.