Following the Battle of Jutland in 1916, the Royal Navy recognised the danger of flash burns to sailors aboard ships. Flash burns were caused by the explosion of cordite in battle. The resulting flash of fire was very hot, but over very quickly and exposed flesh was vulnerable in a way that skin covered by clothing was not. This was injuring many sailors in a way that could be quickly reduced by the issuing of special protective clothing to cover areas of skin normally exposed; i.e. the face and hands. The resulting anti-flash clothing was made of white cotton and consisted of gloves to protect the hands (which we will look at later in the month) and a hood to cover the majority of the head. Initially made of plain cotton, it was discovered that the flame proof qualities were enhanced by treating the fabric with borax. Today these hoods are treated with more modern fire-proofing agents, but the principle has remained unchanged. The hood, which we are looking at today, is a simple balaclava type design with an opening for the face and a long neck piece that can be tucked into the collar of a uniform to prevent burns to the neck:
A piece of elasticated fabric is provided to cover the nose and mouth and with the hood covering the whole of the head, only the eyes are left exposed:
Due to the chemical treatment of the hood, extra care needs to be taken in laundering the hoods and so detailed instructions are provided on the label sewn inside the hood:
The hoods are issued in the standard polythene stores bags and have a label stuck to the outside with details for stores purposes:
The hoods come with a small card which gives fitting and care instructions:
Although the treatment of the cotton has changed over the last century, the basic design is virtually unchanged and an anti-flash hood from eighty years ago is recognisably the same garment. Ralph Hill served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War and recalls the anti-flash gear that was used then.
The anti-flash gear was to be worn when in action to give protection against burns from the searing heat of exploding shells. It was of a soft white fluffy material. The hood covered all but the central part of one’s face, and there was a separate gauze-like disc which when in place completed the coverage of eyes and nose, and the ample flange of the hood was tucked under the uniform around the neck and shoulders. The long gauntlets had elastic hems around the elbows. Anti-flash gear was always worn by gun-crews inside turrets, but I was never required to wear it in action. I suppose the greatest danger from flash was in the interior of capital ships, where it would travel along corridors and through compartments, whereas crews of small ships without armour-plating were so exposed anyway that small benefit would be derived.