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As the Cold War wore on, the American government became increasingly concerned about a potential Soviet strike on the U.S. In this footage from the early 1960's, children are used to test the effectiveness of gas masks.
5. The material they were told to use didn’t work very well against the flu
At first, Kellogg thought gauze masks failed because most people were idiots but that masks could still protect the “intelligent individual.” However, during the 1918 pandemic, 78% of San Francisco nurses contracted the flu even while wearing proper gauze face masks. After a series of experiments, Kellogg concluded that gauze was not a very effective barrier against respiratory droplets. And in order to make gauze a better barrier, so many layers of fabric were required that it became unbreathable.
Why we’ll do better 102 years later: It’s 2020. We don’t have to wait until after the fact to learn what fabric works best. Laboratories are actively testing the filtration efficiency of different fabrics right now and sharing their results with the world.
So, it turns out we got a few things wrong 102 years ago, but history doesn’t have to repeat itself (at least not in these ways). We are going to battle a pandemic in cloth masks again and hopefully, we are going to do it right this time.
Why Britain issued gas masks in 1939
Gas played a major role in the First World War, meaning that in 1939 a lot of men carried the horrible memories of the horrors of a gas attack. Some were blinded by 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.
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.
Bombings of urban centres from the air during the Spanish Civil War - such as the bombing of Guernica, immortalised in paint by Pablo Picasso - showed the dangers that bombers could present to civilians. Coupled with the release of chemical agents, life in Britain could be severely disrupted.
A close up view of a wooden gas warning rattle, as used by Air Raid Wardens Civil Defence organisations to alert citizens to the possibility of a gas attack. Image: D3938 Crown Copyright
To prepare for this crisis, the British government decided that every man, woman and child must have their own respirator - or gas mask - for protection against such an attack. The manufacture of these masks was no easy task – excluding the masks required for the armed services and those required for civilian services like the ARP and Fire Service, the government still needed to produce close to 38 million masks. The contract was given to a factory in Lancashire, and production started in earnest in 1938.
. the government still needed to produce close to 38 million masks.
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. Some local swimming baths had their separated male and female changing rooms commandeered for decontamination facilities.
Householders were advised to tape their windows shut as an anti-gas sealant measure, while post and telephone boxes were painted with red paint that would turn green on exposure to gas. Private firms started to manufacture gas masks for dogs and horses for sale to families who wanted them. Attempts were made to manufacture less intimidating masks for children and babies.
. post and telephone boxes were painted with red paint that would turn green on exposure to gas
Hitler will send no warning. Always carry your gas mask
With 1939 and the outbreak of war, these masks were issued to the public in cardboard boxes with strict instructions that they be carried at all times, 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 and were cumbersome.
Despite the government’s diligent planning, gas was never used against British civilians.
Main image: An Air Raid Warden wearing his steel helmet and duty gas mask. Image: D4045 Crown Copyright
A-59 and A-62
The A-59 was the predecessor to the A-62. The A-59 was a test by Helly Hansen to test out the idea of masks utilizing PVC for visors. The reason for the testing was a new found rubber/PVC welding technique. The A-59 was reviewed by the military and a decision was made to fund Helly Hansen in the mask venture. The A-62 (regular and children's model) and most other Helly Hansen masks went into full production in 1962. The "A" family (A-59 and both A-62 variants) both used Sardine Can filters' as seen in the top of the picture to the right.
While the filters are generally referred to as Sardine Can filters' their original are designated as 'AH-filters'. The filters were, as named, made from Sardine Cans. The idea was that the filters would be easier to produce (as cans were already in production) and would be easier for the layman to fit and adjust. The filters came with a small piece of special tape / band, which was used to connect the Filters to the mask. The instruction manual that came with the mask describes in detail how to make use of the tape.
A Norwegian family wearing A-62s, during the 60's.
The Norwegian A-62/A-59 masks were issued in the Late 50's/early 60s and until the Early 70s. This was because of the growing threat of nuclear war between the USA and the USSR. Therefore the Norwegian Government ordered Helly Hansen to make around 600,000 Gas masks for the civilian population of Norway. Norway wanted to make their own masks because they deemed the Gas Masks from the other NATO nation to be substandard. The Norwegian masks were supposed to be 100 % secure and sealed, and the filters were designed to protect against every known Gas and Nuclear Dust. They were sold for a decent price so every family in Norway could protect their Family in case of War.
How kids were taught to 'duck and cover' during nuclear bomb scares
As talks of a possible nuclear clash between North Korea and the United States heat up, action plans in the face of catastrophe are once again becoming a bigger focus in American life.
The prospect of a bomb being unleashed on America is reminiscent of the 1950s, when people prepared themselves for the possibility of a nuclear war with Russia. The fear was so real that the Federal Civil Defense Administration created a video titled "Duck and Cover," instructing people to seek refuge in case an atomic bomb dropped near them.
"We must all get ready now so we know how to save ourselves if the atomic bomb ever explodes near us," the narrator says in the video. "We all know the atomic bomb is very dangerous. If it is used against us, we must get ready for it, just as we must get ready for many other dangers that are around us all the time."
1 of 30 Due to fear of an atomic bomb possibly being unleashed on American soil, the Federal Civil Defense Administration in America released an educational video in 1951 instructing children to duck and cover in case of catastrophe. Federal Civil Defense Administration Show More Show Less
2 of 30 Due to fear of an atomic bomb possibly being unleashed on American soil, the Federal Civil Defense Administration in America released an educational video in 1951 instructing children to duck and cover in case of catastrophe. Federal Civil Defense Administration Show More Show Less
4 of 30 Due to fear of an atomic bomb possibly being unleashed on American soil, the Federal Civil Defense Administration in America released an educational video in 1951 instructing children to duck and cover in case of catastrophe. Federal Civil Defense Administration Show More Show Less
5 of 30 Due to fear of an atomic bomb possibly being unleashed on American soil, the Federal Civil Defense Administration in America released an educational video in 1951 instructing children to duck and cover in case of catastrophe. Federal Civil Defense Administration Show More Show Less
7 of 30 Due to fear of an atomic bomb possibly being unleashed on American soil, the Federal Civil Defense Administration in America released an educational video in 1951 instructing children to duck and cover in case of catastrophe. Federal Civil Defense Administration Show More Show Less
8 of 30 School children and a teacher peer from beneath the table where they took refuge at a Newark, New Jersey school in 1952 when the sirens howled the alert in the first state-wide air raid test. Bettmann/Bettmann Archive Show More Show Less
10 of 30 Children of Los Angeles' 74th Street School participate in an air raid precaution drill and sit quietly in one of the school's main halls in this undated photo. Bettmann/Bettmann Archive Show More Show Less
11 of 30 School children learn to protect themselves in case of nuclear attack by practicing a duck and cover drill in the classroom of their school in this undated photo. Bettmann/Bettmann Archive Show More Show Less
13 of 30 School children kneel to practice the 'Duck and Cover' air-raid drill in an elementary school classroom in this 1955 photo. American Stock Archive/Getty Images Show More Show Less
14 of 30 A teacher in England supervises the children in their monthly gas mask drill in 1950. Students were taught to use gas masks due to a nearby poison gas dump. Central Press/Getty Images Show More Show Less
16 of 30 A school in southern England performs an air raid drill in response to German bombing raids in the area in this undated photo. Bettmann/Bettmann Archive Show More Show Less
17 of 30 School children in London try on their gas masks during a gas instruction lesson in 1941. Keystone/Getty Images Show More Show Less
19 of 30 School children taking cover underneath desks during air raid in 1944 in an unspecified city. Express/Getty Images Show More Show Less
20 of 30 A duck and cover air raid drill in a school in 1951. Bettmann/Bettmann Archive Show More Show Less
Children at a school in Washington D.C. crouch with their heads against the wall during an air raid alarm drill in 1951.
23 of 30 A child being fitted with a gas mask at school in this 1940 photo. Hulton Archive/Getty Images Show More Show Less
25 of 30 Children wear gas masks in this 1951 photo during a practice evacuation in Greater London after a canister of tear gas was discharged. Parker/Getty Images Show More Show Less
26 of 30 Students wear gas masks in this 1939 photo. Val Doone/Getty Images Show More Show Less
28 of 30 Children play during recess while wearing gas masks at a London school in this 1941 photo. Keystone/Getty Images Show More Show Less
29 of 30 Children try on gas masks at a school in England in this 1939 photo. Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images Show More Show Less
The public service announcement was created for children and shown in public schools. It featured the cartoon character Bert the turtle, who knew to duck and cover in case of emergencies. The video also includes a cartoon rendition of what could happen to homes if a bomb drops nearby.
In case of nuclear attack, children were instructed to crouch near a wall and cover their head and necks with their hands. If they were outside in the open, they were instructed to cover themselves with anything they had, including newspapers and jackets.
Ready.gov no longer recommends ducking and covering in case of a nuclear fallout. Instead, the government instructs people to seek an underground area like a basement for more protection. Other recommendations include seeking thick shielding, such as concrete and bricks, for protection.
For those caught outside, the U.S. government warns to not look at the flash or fireball, as it can blind you. Instead, lie flat on the ground and cover your head. Once you can, seek shelter, even if you're miles away from ground zero since the radioactive fallout can be carried hundreds of miles by the wind.
Once you can, remove your clothing to keep radioactive material from spreading. Take a shower with lots of soap and water, but do not scrub your skin. Don't use conditioner because it will bind radioactive material to your hair, according to Ready.gov.
For more on what to do in case of a nuclear fallout, visit the Environmental Protection Agency's website on how to build a plan.
See the full public service announcement for duck and cover above.
Human Experiments: The Horrors Of Mustard Gas
Public Domain A squad of soldiers from New York lines up waiting for orders to enter the gas chamber. Once inside, the mustard gas would be sprayed over them and the men would sometimes be ordered to remove their masks.
It’s a curious fact that, after the horrors of World War I, chemical weapons seem not to have been used during World War II. U.S. military officials in the early part of WWII didn’t know for sure that that would be the case, of course, and until 1943 or so, there was a legitimate fear among British and American leaders that Germany would turn to chemical weapons as the tide turned.
That fear was a big part of the reason why the U.S. Army used its own soldiers for human experiments to test the effects of mustard gas on otherwise healthy young men.
Of course, nobody in their right mind would volunteer to have mustard gas tested on them. The “gas” is actually a sticky, oily resin that causes chemical burns on exposed skin and uncontrollable bleeding in the lungs when it’s inhaled. That’s probably why the Army didn’t bother asking for consent from the soldiers it exposed in Panama in 1942.
Wikimedia Commons Army test subjects enter the mustard gas chamber for a test. Later, they would be treated for chemical burns at base facilities. After the war, the VA regularly denied their claims because of the experiments’ secrecy.
The purpose of this test was to work out how well mustard gas would work in tropical environments, such as the islands that American soldiers would soon be fighting across in the Pacific. Perhaps as many as 1,200 recruits, tested in small teams for several weeks, were ordered to strip to the waist outside of a wooden chamber on base grounds, then sent inside and doused with the chemical agent.
It turns out that mustard gas works really well in tropical heat. According to one survivor, all of the men began writhing around and screaming in pain as the chemical burned through their skin. Some pounded on the walls and demanded to be let out, though the doors were locked and only opened when the time was up.
Though the men were treated immediately following the experiments, they were threatened with military prison if they ever disclosed what had happened to anyone, including their own doctors later in life.
When the story finally broke in 1993, more than 50 years after the tests, only a few survivors could be located for compensation. The Pentagon is still officially “looking for” test survivors, the youngest of whom would now be 93 years old.
Did you know Walt Disney designed the world’s weirdest gas mask?
Walt Disney, center, shows off his studio’s proposed design of the Mickey Mouse gas mask in January 1942 to Col. George Fisher, left, chief of the Civil Defense Division,Walt Disney, center, and Maj. Gen. William Porter, right, chief of the Chemical Warfare Service. (Courtesy of U.S. Army Chemical Corps Museum, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. /Courtesy of he U.S. Army Chemical Corps Museum, Ft. Leonard Wood, MO )
When our nation entered World War II, I was enrolled as a first-grader at John Eaton Elementary School in the District. During the early months of 1942, I seem to recall being issued a gas mask by the school staff. It was [for] but a short period of time, however. Can you help clear this up for me, it being 70-plus years ago?
In January 1942, Walt Disney came to Washington and met with civil defense and chemical warfare officials. Disney wanted to check the progress of a gas mask he’d designed. With large glass eyes, a snout and big, round ears, the mask was shaped like Disney’s signature character: Mickey Mouse. It was meant to calm terrified children.A production version gas mask designed by Walt Disney to look like Mickey Mouse. The production mask was manufactured by the Sun Rubber Co. (Courtesy of U.S. Army Chemical Corps Museum, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. )
About 1,000 Mickey Mouse respirators were eventually produced, but the civilian gas mask — for children or adults — was not really a notable presence on the home front during World War II.
Things were different in England. In January 1943, a Washington Post reporter interviewed Santosh Mahindra, daughter of the head of the Indian Supply Mission. She had recently arrived in Washington from London, where she had been stranded since the start of the war.
Miss Mahindra had her own burning question for the reporter: “But don’t you all have to wear gas masks here?” she asked.
That was certainly the case in London, where every child was issued a respirator, which was carried in a cardboard box on a string slung over the shoulder.
Of course, there was a difference between the two capitals. One was mere miles from the enemy and had been bombed numerous times. The other wasn’t and hadn’t.
Even so, two weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, director of the Office of Civilian Defense, had proposed that the government order 50 million gas masks. The Post explained: “The masks would cost $3.75 each and would be supplied in five sizes — one for babies, one for children 2 to 3 years of age, one for larger children, another for small adults and the ‘universal adult mask.’ ”The M1-1 Non-combatant Gas Mask, Child, was the first child-size mask to go into production. (Courtesy of he U.S. Army Chemical Corps Museum, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. )
Even 50 million wouldn’t be enough to outfit every citizen with a respirator. Instead, LaGuardia explained, they would be issued only to people living in coastal areas that were prone to attack.
Over the course of the following year, estimates of the number of gas masks needed was continually revised downward. In April 1942, Col. Lemuel Bolles, the District’s defense director, explained that the policy was to issue equipment — first-aid kits, flashlights, arm bands, whistles — only to local air raid wardens. Eventually they would get steel helmets and gas masks, too.
By the one-year anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, 300,000 gas masks had been shipped across the country, allotted on the basis of the vulnerability of an area.
This is not to suggest that D.C. children were not exposed to the war. Youngsters were encouraged to go through their houses looking for scrap to donate. A tire, it was noted, could make 12 gas masks. Said an official: “They will feel pride in the fact that they are playing the part of volunteers behind the lines and that they are helping to defeat our country’s enemies.”
In May 1942, Uline Arena was filled with military gear for a school safety patrol rally. The highlight came at the end of the evening, when 4,000 youngsters streamed “down onto the floor of the arena, scrambled over the equipment, honked jeeps’ horns, fired rifles, machine guns and other light artillery, donned helmets and gas masks, and played war until a bugler sounded taps at 10:45.”
A year later, families gathered at Griffith Stadium for a simulated air raid. A lone bomber was picked out by searchlights, and mock buildings on the field were blown into the air. When “gas!” was shouted, air raid wardens strapped on their masks.
The crowd cheered when the announcer said: “If you get gas on your clothes, remove your clothes. There is no false modesty with mustard gas.”
As it turned out, there wasn’t any mustard gas, in Washington or in London. Why? Why didn’t the Germans — or the Allies, for that matter — use poison gas in World War II? The consensus seems to be that military leaders on both sides didn’t think it would be effective. Explosives were much more useful at destroying infrastructure and terrorizing the civilian populace.
So, long story short: Answer Man thinks you definitely would have seen a gas mask early in 1942. You might even have tried on a gas mask. But he’s not so sure you would have been issued one.
More and more right-thinking Washingtonians are getting on board the Elvis Express, supporting the notion that the National Zoo’s giant panda cub should be named after the King of Rock and Roll.
As District punster Phil Frankenfeld puts it, “The new panda at the National Zoo should be named Elvis because it is the King of Rock Creek role.”
The Tragic Aftermath of Mustard Gas Experiments in World War II
During World War II, the U.S. military conducted secret chemical weapons experiments on approximately 4,000 American soldiers. Though the program was declassified in 1993, an ongoing investigation by NPR's Caitlin Dickerson has revealed that the Department of Veteran Affairs only located and offered compensation to 610 victims.
Now, NPR had released its own comprehensive, searchable database of the 3,900 veterans who were exposed to mustard gas and other chemical weapons, in an attempt to track down uncompensated survivors and their families.
Though chemical weapons have been used in warfare for at least 1,700 years, mustard gas is a modern invention. It first went into large-scale production during World War I. Depending on how the weapon is deployed, it can cause intense skin irritation, large fluid-filled blisters, bleeding and blistering in the respiratory system. Severe mustard agent burns are fatal, and those who recover face a chronic breathing problems higher risk of cancer.
In her NPR report last June, Dickerson explained the scope of the problem:
All of the World War II experiments with mustard gas were done in secret and weren't recorded on the subjects' official military records. Most do not have proof of what they went through. They received no follow-up health care or monitoring of any kind. And they were sworn to secrecy about the tests under threat of dishonorable discharge and military prison time, leaving some unable to receive adequate medical treatment for their injuries, because they couldn't tell doctors what happened to them.
"It felt like you were on fire," Rollins Edwards, now 93, told her. As an Army soldier, Edwards was exposed to chemical agents while standing inside a wooden gas chamber. "Guys started screaming and hollering and trying to break out. And then some of the guys fainted. And finally they opened the door and let us out, and the guys were just, they were in bad shape," he said.
The WWII experiments, which were conducted in Panama, were meant to determine how chemical weapons performed in tropical island climates. The military was searching for the "ideal chemical soldier" to resist potential attacks, according to medical historian Susan Smith. Experiments were often based on race. Black and Puerto Rican troops were specifically exposed to see how their skin would react. "They said we were being tested to see what effect these gases would have on black skins," Edwards tells Dickerson. Japanese Americans were also tested, as proxies for Japanese troops.
Though the tests themselves are shocking and outrageous, the follow-up to the experiments—or lack thereof—was what ultimately provoked lawmakers to demand restitution for the veterans and their families. The VA has recognized that injured veterans deserve benefits, and NPR's investigation aims to find more eligible victims with its database, which lists the names, last known residences, birth dates, enlistments and military branches where the veterans served.
Those veterans suffered from skin problems, respiratory issues and cancer for decades—and now, some don't trust the VA. When Dickerson interviewed Harry Bollinger, a Navy recruit who participated in the mustard gas tests, he explained how the VA refused to acknowledge his participation in the experiments, citing regulations and a lack of records. After years of rejection letters, when the agency finally recognized that he was exposed to mustard gas, he no longer wanted to go back for his benefits. "I was disgusted already," Bollinger tells Dickerson. "What's the use?"
About Marissa Fessenden
Marissa Fessenden is a freelance science writer and artist who appreciates small things and wide open spaces.
Special Operations Outlook 2019 Digital Edition is here!
U.S. Army issued gas masks during World War II. Despite fears of an enemy gas attack on the U.S. homeland during World War II, the only use of chemical weapons in the U.S. was the result of testing the U.S. conducted on “volunteer” service members. U.S. Army photo
Exposure to harmful chemicals has long been associated with modern warfare. During the last century, World War I was notable for mustard gas attacks decades later, the Vietnam War was linked to Agent Orange. In World War I, deadly chemicals were utilized as agents of destruction Vietnam’s Agent Orange had long-range unintended effects, some of which were no less deadly.
The cloak of concealment about the mustard gas exposure experienced by World War II servicemen continued for decades.
In contrast, World War II is considered to be a war free of such tactics. Chemical substances were seldom used on the battlefield. However, what is mainly unknown is the magnitude of exposure of American soldiers to mustard gas – an exposure created by their own government. Chemical weapons were manufactured and stockpiled by the United States for possible use against the enemy. However, only isolated incidents of use by Germany and Japan occurred. Secretly, mustard gas experiments were performed on U.S servicemen. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) noted on their website that “volunteer” soldiers and sailors were participants in Department of War experiments during the war. The experiments were for purposes of testing clothing, skin ointments and other protective apparatus to determine their efficacy in the event of enemy mustard gas attacks. More than 60,000 servicemen were affected, some seriously.
A close-up view of Sgt. Loel Putnam in gas mask and protective cloth permeable helmet at a chemical warfare decontamination demonstration at Fort Bliss, Texas, Sept. 7, 1944. Mustard gas experiments were conducted on U.S servicemen in order to test protective equipment. U.S. Army photo
The National Toxicology Program of Health and Human Services has outlined three types of mustard gas experiments on the military in World War II – patch or drop tests on the skin, closed chamber tests and open field tests. The greatest amount of full body system exposure occurred in the chamber and field tests. Outfitted with protective clothing, participants were placed in a gas chamber for an hour or more until penetration of the clothing occurred. This penetration often resulted in moderate to severe chemical burns. The protocol for the field tests consisted of placing men in open ground areas that became saturated with mustard gas. Some wore protective clothing and apparatus but others were left exposed. Experimentation took place at numerous sites across America. A variety of tests were performed at arsenals and bases (Edgewood Arsenal, Md, Camp Sibert, Ala., Bushnell Field, Fla., Dugway Proving Ground, Utah), the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., and some universities including the University of Chicago. One open field test on Puerto Ricans was done outside the United States at remote San Jose Island, Panama Canal Zone.
African-American and Japanese-American service members were recruited to determine if the skin effects of mustard gas were different for those groups.
After years of ignoring veterans who had participated in these experiments, the government finally issued a directive in the 1990s for The Institute of Medicine to research the long term impact of these experiments on veterans. It was determined that no central database of participants existed. It was impossible to learn the identities of many of the men, since recordkeeping was spotty and varied greatly by test site. This investigation also uncovered the lack of policies for tests on human subjects and found that the purpose of some of the experiments was to discover whether there were racial distinctions in reaction to mustard gas. The majority tested were Caucasian because the majority of servicemen were Caucasian. However, African-American and Japanese-American military service members were recruited to determine if the skin effects of mustard gas were different for those groups.
A U.S. Navy sailor at the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi wears protective clothing and a gas mask designed for use in chemical warfare, Corpus Christi, Texas, Aug. 1942. The long term effects of mustard gas exposure only began to be investigated in the 1990s. Library of Congress photo
The only instance of war zone casualties from mustard gas happened in Bari, Italy. Bari was a harbor city that was attacked by German planes on Dec. 2, 1943. Several American ships were sunk during the raid, including the John Harvey. It was not known, except possibly by the captain and crew of the John Harvey, that this ship carried 2,000 M41-A1 100-pound mustard bombs. During the attack, the entire crew of the John Harvey was killed. Survivors of other sinking ships jumped into a toxic brew of oil and mustard gas and became coated with the substance. Confusion reigned at the port. Blindness, breathing issues, and skin burns overwhelmed the survivors. In addition, a poisonous cloud hovered over the town. The cause of these multiple health issues was not understood for a few days because of the secrecy about the presence of mustard gas on an American ship. The silence cost lives. Among the merchant marine and military members at Bari, there were 628 casualties tied to mustard gas exposure. The chaos of war prevented an accurate accounting of the civilian casualties related to mustard gas exposure, especially since many civilians fled the city after the air raid. This incident was not widely reported, even though a military team had eventually been sent to the town to treat the survivors. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was especially adamant that the incident remain secret for fear of a German propaganda coup. There was no medical follow up on either the military or civilians affected.
It is possible that scores of World War II veterans with health issues, including emphysema, respiratory cancers, and leukemia, which are related to mustard gas exposure, never realized the connection and kept their vow of secrecy until the end of their lives.
The cloak of concealment about the mustard gas exposure experienced by World War II servicemen continued for decades. During the 1990s, Congress and the VA at last began to investigate the long term impact of exposure on veteran volunteers. The designation of “volunteer” was a misnomer. According to the Oxford Textbook of Clinical Research Ethics, many men were ordered to participate in these mustard gas activities. The Department of War did not classify the tests as human experiments therefore consent was not necessary and many men were directly ordered to participate. After the issuance of a Congressional directive, and the Institute of Medicine’s report, the VA made a desultory attempt to contact exposed veterans through public service announcements and veteran magazine notices. Many names were unknown because of lack of sufficient records, but the VA did not even attempt to individually find those veterans whose identities were known. The VA received about 2,000 claims, with 193 ultimately receiving benefits. It is possible that scores of World War II veterans with health issues, including emphysema, respiratory cancers, and leukemia, which are related to mustard gas exposure, never realized the connection and kept their vow of secrecy until the end of their lives.
Gas masks in World War One
Gas masks used in World War One were made as a result of poison gas attacks that took the Allies in the trenches on the Western Front by surprise. Early gas masks were crude as would be expected as no-one had thought that poison gas would ever be used in warfare as the mere thought seemed too shocking.
One of the first British gas masks was the British Hypo helmet seen below.
This crude mask gave some protection but its eye-piece proved to be very weak and easy to break – thus making the protective value of the hypo helmet null and void. The mask gave protection by being dipped in anti-gas chemicals. These were:
Though it was crude, the hypo helmet was a sign to British troops in the trenches that something was being done to help them during a gas attack and that they were not being left out for slaughter. As the months passed and the use of poison gas occurred more frequently, more sophisticated masks were developed and introduced.
The British small box respirator was first introduced to British soldiers in April 1916 – a few months before the Battle of the Somme. By January 1917, it had become the standard issue gas mask for all British soldiers. By now, the mask had an appearance on what we would assume a gas mask to have and its value can be seen in the number of fatalities the British suffered as a result of poison gas – 8,100 – far fewer than the total British deaths of the first day of the Somme.