Attack - Keep Calm and Don't Panic!
of the most haunting images of the first world war.
Painting by John
Singer Sargent after witnessing a group of soldiers blinded by mustard
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! An
ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime.
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
(extract of poem written between October 1917 and March 1918)
Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
title of this poem means "Sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country."
HORRORS OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR
Masks had been issued to everyone by the time of the Munich Crisis in 1938
the time of the Munich Crisis in September 1939 everyone in Britain
had been issued with a gas mask. The horrors of soldiers returning from
the Western Front in 1918 and the effect gas had on them was still fresh
in peoples minds. Thousands of crippled ex-servicemen were living
reminders of what gas could do. It was a weapon that could kill or
maim scores of people caught in its grasp in minutes.
Gas was therefore still perceived with the outbreak of war to be the main weapon
that would be used in an attack at home. People were scared and
FOR THE WORST
to put on your gas mask' literature
The 'Mickey Mouse' Gas Mask
It is fair to say that many people hated gas masks, complaining they found it hard to breathe and the smell of rubber and
disinfectant could be over bearing. Children were issued with Mickey
Mouse gas masks which they seemed to take quite happily to. This
brightly coloured gas mask was an attempt to try to make it more appealing
to children and it succeeded to a point. The resemblance to Mickey
Mouse however was questionable (in our opinion - what do you think?). See image below which gives
an example of this type of gas mask.
Mouse' Gas Mask design for children
'Gas Helmet' for Babies
A 'gas helmet' was designed by Mr. E.W. Mills of Kent that could be used
for babies. It comprised of a small airtight chamber into which
filtered air was provided by means of hand bellows. An example of
this type of 'gas helmet' can be seen below. As you can see it enveloped the whole baby.
try out Gas Helmet for their baby'
The Phoney War grips Britain
issue of gas masks was, initially, taken very seriously and everyone was
careful to ensure they carried them at all times. However, as the
war began to drag on and the fear of gas attack subsided many people began
to leave their gas masks at home and get careless. The 'Phoney War' or
'Bore War' descended on Britain and a sense of unrealism gripped Britain as
the war seemed more and more distant.
An idea of the drop in people carrying their gas masks could be seen by the numbers left behind in trains
and buses in London. In September 1940 the figure was up to 2000 a
week. By early 1942 it was just 400.
Man's Best Friend
and cats were not forgotten in all the initial panic and many pet owners were advised to send
their animals to
the country. This however did not stop countless animals being
destroyed unnecessarily in the first weeks of
Simple guidelines were drawn up for people particularly dog owners. If taking your dog for a walk you were advised to be
near a shelter. It was publically declared that animals were allowed
in public shelters. If an attack did occur then cotton wool over dogs
ears were a good measure. Bromide or
tranquilisers could also be used if really necessary.
A dog's gas mask was provided but unfortunately
dogs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes so it proved
very difficult to design a universal mask for dogs. Anyway, most dogs
frantically tried to get the masks off even if they did fit!
As for cats?
An ARP broadcast in 1939 said it all: -
Best Friend' carrying his gas mask!
Blunt but probably true!
The National Canine Defence League
designed a special kennel to protect smaller animals against gas.
was composed of a steel cylinder which was closed at one
end. A gas-proof cover with a glass window would be fitted at the other
end once the dog was inside. These were however not widely
Proof Kennel' (with Air Filter)
IMAGES FROM THE HOME FRONT
However it was not all doom and
gloom and the British proved that even in the darkest days of the
war they had a great sense of humour. The following is a
selection of humorous/odd quotes/images from the Home Front related to Gas
A humorous poke at the wearing of Gas Masks
Neighbours pass the time
when playing their favourite games children could not entirley get away from the Gas Mask.
The popular game of 'Vacuation was one such example. See below
for a sample card from this game.
This card allowed the player an extra turn and was probably the only
time children were glad to receive a gas mask! To
see more games played (at Christmastime click here -
'Game of 'Vacuation' -
Click this card to see a selection of cards form this popular
hshf - Page last updated 23 July 2011