When the British government took on the monumental task of issuing a gas mask to every man, woman and child in the United Kingdom they obviously had to work to a budget. As such the masks were issued in a cardboard box with a piece of string allow them to be worn over the shoulder. These cases worked, but were easily damaged and were not necessarily the most attractive items. Whilst many manufactured their own cases from material and leatherette, commercial manufacturers produced cases as well, especially before the outbreak of war. Today we are looking at one of the more common of these commercial cases, a tan coloured metal tin box:
The design is very similar to a sandwich tin of the period, but a pair of loops are rivetted to both sides:
These allow a carrying strap of leather or string to be passed around the box to allow it to be slung easily when used. The top of the tin is clearly marked with its contents in black printing together with the owner’s name and address:
The manufacturer’s name is printed on the back of the lid and in this case the tin was manufactured by Barringer, Wallis & Manners Ltd:
Ron Tarling was a young boy at the start of the war and his mother invested in a tin for his gas mask:
In the early years of the war a gas mask was an ever-present accoutrement – an unfashionable, square, cardboard box – or it was until Woolworths came up with a variety of alternative metal canisters.
These resulted in a certain amount of rivalry at school as to who possessed the most desirable container – my own, finished in a rather dashing overall white enamel, enjoyed only a fleeting period of desirability, proving to be too small to take the later, modified gas mask. It was to finish its days ignominiously hanging in our garden shed, a home to spiders and an assortment of rusty nails.
In order to accustom us to the rather unpleasant sensation of wearing a mask, we were periodically instructed to put them on for ten minutes or so in class – on one occasion we had a mobile gas chamber parked on our playground and we were all required to sit in it for ten minutes or so to prove to ourselves the effectiveness of the masks. We were suitably reassured, but on return to our classroom the residue of gas on our clothing caused a few impromptu tears!
I recall shopping in Watford with my mother when there was a simulated gas attack – canisters of tear gas which had been placed in the gutters along the High Street were set off and the shopping area became filled with gas – we put our masks on and took shelter in a shop until the gas dispersed.
If memory serves me correctly, as the war progressed we took a much more cavalier attitude to carrying gas masks and they were normally left at home.