At the start of the Second World War there was a real fear that gas would be deployed against the civilian population. In hindsight, this was not to be the case, however at the time it was seen as being a real potential and many remembered the horror of men being gassed on the Western Front on World War I. Although precautions were taken, such as issuing all men, women and children with gas masks, it was recognised that this alone would not be entirely effective. There would always be times where someone could not put on their gas mask in time, or the mask leaked or the enemy used blister gasses and in those cases there would need to be first aid given to casualties. Treating a gas casualty, without the carer making themselves a casualty as well, was tricky and specialist courses were offered that instructed civilians in the best way to treat those incapacitated by gas, and how to avoid making themselves a casualty whilst they administered aid. The British government issued a book called ‘First Aid and Nursing for Gas Casualties’ that sat alongside these courses (and is one of the more common ARP booklets to find on the collector’s market today) and a follow up and more in depth book looking at medical treatment of gas casualties. Today, however, we are looking at a certificate issued in September 1939 to a member of the public who had completed a Medical Anti-Gas course:
This certificate was issued to an Edith Sutton from Batley, who worked for the Public Health Department and so she probably attended this course through her employer as part of her day to day work for the local authority. The British Government delegated a lot of the training for anti-gas procedures to local authorities and although there were centralised training for instructors, these personnel then passed back out to their local area and trained their local colleagues. Stan Harris was chosen to be his local authority’s gas identification officer:
I was recruited to be Gas Identification Officer for the Borough of Bedford. I was 24 years old and because I was working Muntona, which was a food producer I was classed as working in a reserved occupation. I went to Cambridge for a week for training. Training was identifying different gases, gas compounds in the field. Different gases were presented and had to be identified correctly. I remember mustard gas which blistered the skin. There were about four different gases.
After that of course I returned to Bedford and was then on call. This meant, originally, attending the Town Hall (which is now the Civic Theatre) every time that the air raid siren went. I assembled with the chief ARP Warden and other officials in the corridor leading to the stage of the Town Hall. The call outs became too frequent and actually interfered with your day time work. So it was arranged that we didn’t come during daylight hours and they installed telephones in the houses of those people who would have assembled. But at this time we still had to come to the Town Hall at night and sleep over so then an assistant Gas Identification Officer was appointed to share the night call outs. Mr Woodward was appointed my assistant during September 1940.
I received a letter from Mr G K Bowes, Medical Officer of Health regarding Gas Contaminated Food in 1941. It reads …
“In the event of our own Public Analyst not being available for investigations if foodstuffs are contaminated by enemy poison gas, Mr Robinson, the Science Master of the Bedford School, has expressed his willingness to undertake this work. As soon as the scheme for carrying out such investigations has advanced a little further Mr Robinson will no doubt wish to obtain your advice on some aspects of the matter and I have suggested to him that he gets into touch with you direct. I hope this will be agreeable to you.”