Gas masks were issued to every British citizen at the start of World War Two. The Government feared that chemical weapons may be used on civilians during aerial bombings, so the masks were designed to protect people from the dangerous effects of gas. To teach people how to keep care of their gas masks, the government published leaflets such as ‘Your Gas Mask’, found below.
People were instructed to keep their masks with them at all times and were the key item of luggage for evacuees. Gas mask drill was a daily feature of life at school.
The Government issued posters to remind people to carry their gas masks at all times. People were fined if their were caught without their gas masks.
The Ministry of Home Safety issued advice on how to put on a gas mask. Here is an example of a public information leaflet issued in 1939, called ‘Your Gas Mask’.
Your Gas Mask
How to keep it and how to use it.
Public information leaflet no 2.
Read this and keep it carefully. You may need it.
Issued from the Lord Privy Seal’s Office July 1939.
Your gas mask
Take care of your gas mask and your gas mask will take care of you
It is possible that in war your life might depend on your gas mask and the condition in which it had been kept.
The official gas mask, or respirator, consists of a metal container filled with material, which absorbs the gas, and a rubber face piece with a non-inflammable transparent window. Some people seem to think that this mask does not look as if it would offer very good protection. Actually, it has been most carefully designed and fully tested, and will give you adequate protection against any of the known war gases. But remember it will not protect you from the ordinary gas that you burn in a gas cooker or gas fire.
Your mask should be kept carefully. Never hang it up by the straps which fasten it on over the head. This will pull the rubber face piece out of shape so that it no longer fits you properly. It should be kept in the special box provided, where this has been issued, but any box which is air tight, or nearly so, will do.
When placed in the box the metal container should lie flat with the rubber face piece uppermost, the transparent window lying evenly on top at full length. Great care should be taken not to bend or fold the window, or let it get scratched, cracked or dented.
Keep the box in a cool place away from strong light. Exposure to heat or prolonged exposure to strong light will spoil the material of the mask and it may cease to give complete protection. It should never be held close to a fire or hot water pipes, or left lying out in the sun.
It is important to know how to put on your mask quickly and properly. You might need to do this in a hurry. To put it on, hold the mask by each of the side straps with the thumbs underneath and the inside of the window facing you. Then lift the mask to your face, push your chin forwards into it and draw the straps over the top of your head as far as they will go. See that the straps are properly adjusted and leave them so.
To remove the mask, insert the thumb under the buckle at the back of your head and then pull it forward over the top of your head so that the mask is lowered downwards from the face.
NEVER TRY TO LIFT THE MASK OFF UPWARDS OR BY PULLING THE CONTAINER OR THE EDGE OF THE RUBBER AT THE CHIN.
To prevent the window from misting over when the mask is worn, wet the end of a finger and rub it on a piece of toilet soap. Then rub the finger all over the inside of the window so as to leave a thin film of soap.
After the mask has been used you will find that it is wet on the inside with moisture from the breath. This should be wiped off with a soft dry cloth and the mask allowed to dry before it is put away in its box. Do not try to dry it by applying heat.
The contents of the container do not deteriorate either with age or with wearing the mask when gas is not present. But if you suspect any flaw in your gas mask you should inform your local Air Raid Warden.
It is a good thing to get out your gas mask occasionally and put it on, so as to get used to wearing it, and if you take the simple precautions set out above you will ensure that it is always ready for your protection.
See also: Evacuation
"Your Gas Mask". HistoryLearning.com. 2023. Web.