CIVILIAN GAS MASKS:  United Kingdom. World War II. Considerable attention was paid by the government of the United Kingdom to protection of the civilian population against aerial chemical attack, ranging from gas-proofing shelters (see Refuge Room) to a variety of individual protective measures.  Among the latter was the general distribution of gas masks.  Prior to the start of hostilities in World War II the British government purchased and issued 30,000,000 civilian pattern gas masks to the populace at no charge.

British gas masks included three basic models, the Civilian Respirator, the Civilian Duty Respirator, and the Service Respirator.

The Civilian Respirator was constructed with a facepiece designed to fit closely around the face and held in place by an adjustable horizontal strap around the back of the head to the sides of the facepiece and a vertical strap that connected the horizontal strap over the top of the wearer's head to the top of the facepiece.  The facepiece was supplied with a single transparent window and with a metal chemical filter drum held in place by a rubber band.  When properly adjusted to a snug fit, the respirator protected the eyes, nose, mouth, and lungs from all war gases known at the time of issue.  The mask was donned by tucking the chin into the facepiece, pulling the facepiece back over the head, and tightening the straps, if needed.  It was removed by pulling the straps forward over the top of the head.  Literature of the time suggests that the intent of the respirator was to allow wearers to reach a gas-proof shelter and that it was not intended for prolonged wear in a chemical attack environment.

The Civilian Duty Respirator was a more durable mask designed for wear by the emergency services and others who would have to work in a chemical environment.  It was constructed of molded rubber with individual glass eyepieces, a filter canister at the chin, an outlet valve above the nose, and a speaking port on the right side that would allow telephone use.  Instead of the single horizontal head strap, this respirator had a harness with multiple adjustable attachment points.

The Service Respirator was the standard military issue respirator, also issued to those air raid protection services that could be expected to have to perform strenuous duties in areas with heavy concentrations of chemical agents.  The respirator consisted of a faceplate with individual eyepieces and a head harness, all connected from a two way valve to a charcoal filter canister by a flexible hose.  The weight of the canister was supported by a haversack worn on the chest. 

Sources: Hutchinson, Robert, Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee, Weapons of Mass Destruction: The no-nonsense guide to nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons today, London, United Kingdom, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003. Ogden's Cigarettes, "The Civilian Respirator," in Air Raid Precautions, Number 27, cigarette card, published by the author, United Kingdom, no date (believed to be prior to World War II).  Ogden's Cigarettes, "The Civilian Respirator - How To Adjust It," in Air Raid Precautions, Number 28, cigarette card, published by the author, United Kingdom, no date (believed to be prior to World War II).  Ogden's Cigarettes, "The Civilian Respirator - How To Remove It," in Air Raid Precautions, Number 29, cigarette card, published by the author, United Kingdom, no date (believed to be prior to World War II). Ogden's Cigarettes, "The Civilian Duty Respirator," in Air Raid Precautions, Number 30, cigarette card, published by the author, United Kingdom, no date (believed to be prior to World War II). Ogden's Cigarettes, "The Service Respirator," in Air Raid Precautions, Number 31, cigarette card, published by the author, United Kingdom, no date (believed to be prior to World War II).

Entry 0369 - posted 22 July 2003