#ForgottenFriday – Gas Masks

Gas played a major role in WWI, meaning that in 1939 a lot of men carried the horrible memories of the horrors of a gas attack in which they suffered not many years prior. Some were even blinded by gas such as mustard or chlorine gas. While countless more suffered breathing difficulties throughout their lives.

The terror of gas hung heavy on the public consciousness, and with the advent of the medium bomber bringing civilian population centres into the line of fire, the government considered the threat of gas to civilian populations to be severe.

To prepare for this crisis, the British government decided that every man, woman and child must have their own respirator for protection against such an attack. The manufacture of these masks was extremely hard. There was a demand for over 38 million gasmasks for each person in Britain. The contract was given to a factory in Lancashire, and production started in earnest in 1938.

While the masks were being made, the government were training more and more members of the civil defence organisations in procedures for dealing with gas casualties. Air Raid Wardens would carry old football rattles to sound in the event of gas being detected or suspected. Once the attack was deemed safe, a bell was rung to signal safety.

With 1939 and the outbreak of war, these masks were issued to the public in cardboard boxes with strict instructions that they be always carried, without exception. Fines would be imposed if you were caught without your respirator. As such, many people replaced their cardboard boxes in time with privately available alternatives, as the government-issue cardboard boxes were prone to falling apart, especially during the British weather.

As the war progressed, people stopped carrying their gas masks, and soldiers, who in 1940 were never seen without them, stop carrying them too. Paradoxically, this was just as the Germans were starting to develop the Nerve Agent Tabun. By the end of the war, an even more deadly gas known as Sarin was ready for production. However, this was never used on the civilians of Great Britian.

Despite the government’s diligent planning, gas was never used against British civilians.


(c) To read more – Check out this website – https://www.findmypast.co.uk/1939register/why-britain-issued-gas-masks-ww2