On this day in history : 26th September 1938 – The first gas masks are issued to British citizens as concerns over the prospect of war with Germany grow….
The government issued some 35 million ‘General Civilian respirators’…. During World War One chlorine gas and then mustard gas had been used for the first time…. It is estimated some 88,000 were killed by gas and 1,200,000 injured….
As World War Two loomed the UK government planned for tens of thousands of deaths in London alone…. They had been advised to expect 250,000 deaths from gas in Britain in the first week of the war….
Masks were issued in a cardboard box, with the instructions printed inside the lid…. Adults had ones made of plain black rubber; children had ‘Mickey Mouse’ masks – in an attempt to make them seem a little less scary…. Babies had a mask ‘suit’ which completely enclosed them, leaving only their legs exposed….
People were instructed to carry their masks with them at all times – and to practice putting them on and wearing them…. Many found the masks awkward and cumbersome whilst others found the small of the rubber made them nauseous….
It was to be almost a year before war eventually broke out…. Whilst the government had prepared the public for what it feared would be Hitler’s secret weapon thankfully the masks were never needed….