The Devil’s Porridge Museum has several gas masks in its collection, some date from World War One but the majority were made during World War Two. We have two ‘baby’ gas masks. One is on display in the Museum’s First Floor Second World War galleries and the other is in our object store (it was recently donated to the Museum and is unusual in that it came in its original box).
We are also fortunate to have a document in the Museum collection which went with gas masks such as these when they were issued. It provides lots of interesting information such as:
-they were issued to the mother on the birth of a child
-the gas mask was issued by he local council and was government property
-it was expected that it would be returned (obviously some weren’t)
-masks such as this were meant to be used for children up to the age of two
Poisoned gas was widely used in World War One and, although its use was banned under the terms of a 1925 Geneva Protocol, both sides in World War Two anticipated its use by their enemies and prepared accordingly. Changes to aerial warfare meant that civilians could have been targeted and poison gas could have had a devastating impact had it been used on a large urban area. Fortunately, neither Britain or Germany used poisoned gas on one another during the War (although its possible use was discussed by both sides).
It is estimated that nearly 40 million gas masks were issued during World War Two. During a recent oral history project, the Museum spoke with a lady from Carlisle, who is now in her 90s. She remembered getting in trouble for dragging her gas mask along the ground on the way to school. Her treatment of this piece of (potentially) lifesaving equipment was so careless that she had to have it replaced several times.
The Museum has another gas mask specifically aimed at children on display, this is the ‘Mickey Mouse’ gas mask. Thankfully gas masks were not used in Britain in World War Two but serve as a grim reminder of the possible horrors of war and the amazing gift of peace in Europe which was achieved on VE Day 75 years ago.
Young visitors (photos above) enjoy putting on replica gas masks (these are completely safe, some World War Two ones have asbestos in them and should not be worn or handled without testing/careful controls).
If you’re interested in the experiences of children in World War Two, the following may be of interest to you:
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