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How we can defeat the Fire Attack.
When the Enemy Plane throw Fire.
Ammanford Appliances.
When the Crowd Panic.
Trapped by Fire.
If the House Catches Fire.

Retirement of Captain David Davies.
Is Poison Gas a Weapon.
Former Auxiliary fire hero George medal

22nd April 1940

A.R.P. and the Citizen.




Editor A.R.P. News, National Journal of Civil Defence


A great many people who are in a good position to know hold firmly to the opinion that poison gas is not likely to be used, and that there is less danger from gas than from air attacks with either explosives or fire bombs.

Professor J. B. S. Haldaie, writing in “A.R.P. News” as long ago as June, 1938, said, “the danger of gas has been greatly exaggerated,” and he added that he could claim to know something about poison gas: he had served on a Cabinet Committee on Air Defence and he had already spent nearly three months in Spain during the civil war there, and had been in a number of air raids by German `planes.


He went on to show that gas did not cause many casualties. “Phosgene is one of the most deadly gases,” he wrote. “But 11 tons of it exploded by accident in Hamburg docks in 1928 on a Sunday. There was no warning. Many people were out of doors. The day was warm. Windows were open. The gas cloud drifted through a suburb of Hamburg.

“One man killed on the first floor of his house. Others were caught in streets and even playing football, some of them six miles away. But only 300 people were injured and only ten died. Eleven tons of gas could be packed into fifteen tons of bombs. In London in 1917 – 18, fifteen tons of high explosive bombs killed 180 people on the average. In Barcelona in 1938 this number rose to 480.”

The argument of Professor Haldane and many other experts is that the Germans will not use gas against us because they can kill and maim us more effectively and less expensively with high explosive bombs.

Why, then, as its first precautions against air raids, did our Government issue gas masks to civilians? To provide masks for the whole population of Britain was a costly undertaking.

Actually by September 30 th of last year. 50,750,000 masks had been given out, and it is estimated that 4,000,000 have been wasted by bad distribution or by loss and damage. Could the money have been better spent?


There were a great many things to remember when deciding what kind of protection should be given to the civilian. Gas bombs, taken weight for weight, may not be anywhere near so deadly as high explosives. But for some reason not easy to understand most people are more frightened by the thought of a gas attack than by the possibility of being blown up with explosives or hit by shrapnel.

The idea of breathing poison that will suffocate and destroy one's lungs fill the mind with horror. All over the world people have rebelled against the use of gas in warfare: they consider that gas is not a “civilised” weapon. Actually no weapon is in this sense “civilised.”

But the fact remains that most people are much more frightened of gas that of other attacks. In war the enemy seeks to strike terror into his opponent, to play on his nerves and put him in a panic ? to demoralise him. The Germans might therefore use gas to terrorise us.

When the Government provided gas masks they achieved two objects ? they

  • Eased the mind to the public and gave them greater sense of security
  • Made it much less likely than ever that the Germans will turn to gas.

Even if the masks are never used they will have been worth the money, because it is not a sense of pity or fair play that will prevent Hitler from using gas. He is more likely to refrain because he knows we are prepared.

An enemy seeks always to strike where he is not expected, and so to keep his opponent keyed up. This ? to digress for a moment ? is the reason why even the smallest town on the safest part of the West Coast can not afford to neglect A.R.P. If this air war comes in earnest, then the Germans will probably at times single out “safe” towns for their attacks.

They will do this to harass the Government. As soon as a “safe” town is attacked its inhabitants will clamour for protection. Anti-aircraft and other means of defence will have to be transferred from the vulnerable places. Many defensive weapons will have to be manufactured.


But if it was worth while to provide gas masks it is also worth while to keep them sound and ready for use. The ordinary civilian gas mask is on the whole a reliable protection. It will save the wearer from being harmed from any known gases, and in spite of rumours, it is not likely that surprise gases will be used.

Liquid gas, which affects the skin, is a different matter and I shall deal with that in a later article.

The important thing, however, is that the gas mask must fit ? it must be a perfect fit, it must fit like a glove. This point cannot be over emphasised. Undoubtedly the life of the wearer may depend at some future time upon his mask, and if poison gas can get in from the sides, instead of being drawn through the charcoal, the mask will be of little use.

Yet how many people have had their masks tested since they first got them? How many people would be prepared to put on their masks and without fear, to walk into a concentration of phosgene? How many A.R.P. workers test their own respirators periodically? I will guarantee that in each case the percentage is small. This is a matter which urgently demands the attention of the chief warden in each district.

Of course, any civilian who wishes to have his mask tested need only call with it at the nearest warden's post. But the task ought to be tackled systematically by the authorities. If a gas raid came and the majority of masks, through faulty fitting, were proved ineffective, the panic and dismay resulting would be as costly as the casualties.


In the case of children, frequent tests are even more important. Often is two or five months youngsters have grown out of their shoes and coats. It should not be assumed that in the same period the fit of their masks ? which must be much more accurate ? has not altered.

A friend of mine recently tested the respirators of 400 children. He discovered that 75 per cent, of them fitted so baldly as to be practically useless.

In my next article I shall deal further with gas. I intend to give a history of the gas weapon since it was first used in the last war, and then to explain how we should now cope with an attack and what part the A.R.P. worker would play.

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