One of the hardest items of British World War II kit to track down is the anti gas cape. This was a garment designed to protect the soldier from vesicant gases such as mustard gas that were released from the air. They were made of oil cloth to make them impervious to liquids and had a sticky feel to the cloth. Happily gas was never used and they were instead often used as rain protection, even though this was officially forbidden due to the damage it risked causing to the gas cape. Here a soldier returning from Dunkirk can be seen wearing an anti-gas cape:
Original gas capes survive in very small numbers- the garments are fragile to begin with, the oil used to waterproof them has a nasty habit of breaking down the cloth so that it disintegrates and they were often rolled up and after many years this results in the cloth sticking together so that it is impossible to unravel and use. Therefore for those involved in living history a replica is needed.
A number of different gas cape replicas are out there, however the easiest to source is that from What Price Glory that can be ordered online for $75. The anti gas cape you receive is made of green cotton and has been treated with some coating that gives it a sheen and makes it waterproof, although I do not believe that this is the same linseed oil as the originals as it is not sticky and doesn’t smell!
The small pocket for cotton waste is replicated on the front, as is the ‘hump’ on the rear to allow the cape to be worn over a small pack:
Press studs are fitted to allow the skirts of the gas cape to be drawn back to expose the legs, as on the originals. Large holes for ventilation are fitted under the arm pits:
Cotton tapes are fitted that allow the cape to be rolled correctly and secured to the webbing in a variety of positions (as I portray late war, I tend to just carry mine on the back of the belt, with the straps wound in opposite directions so it can’t unravel and fall off):
Opinion is divided on how realistic the WPG anti gas cape is. Some argue that it is the wrong colour, wrong shape and wrong material. Others argue that it appears to be copied from an early Canadian pattern and is not too far off that design. The lack of an oilskin type fabric is a drawback, but it does make the cape more practiccal to re-enactors as it is no longer sticky and smelly.
I have done without a gas cape for the last ten years, and only finally got one last year. I used it ‘in the field’ for three days and nights and it is here it came into its own. It was waterproof and relatively wind proof and worked well to trap a layer of air between my battledress and the cape that helped keep me warm at 2am! It might not be a perfect replica, but I found it a very practical garment and ‘good enough’ for me until I acquire a better replica. It will also spend 95% of its time rolled up and on your equipment, so for that reason it is perfectly adequate. I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this piece, but it is worth considering if you can live with its shortcomings for the ease of purchasing and the number of times you will actually use it.