British World War II Gas Masks: Drills at School

British World War II gas masks and school children :

Figure 1.--Here young children at a junior school in Sussex are practicing putting on their gas masks. The schools drilled them until every one could get them on very quickly. I am not sure how long it took, but even the younger children became very accomplished. You wonder what was going through their minds, but we suspect the drill focused their attention rather than thinking that people were trying to kill them.

No one was better trained with using gas masks than the school children. We note drills with school children training them to efficiently put on gas masks correctly and quickly. Parents were supposed to train the children at home, but they got much more practice at school and became very proficient at it. This dovetailed with air raid drills teaching the children how to behave in case of Luftwaffe raids using conventional bombs. Many but not all children were evacuated from the cities. Many schools continued to operate and of course so did the schools in the countryside. And when the expected bombing did not occur with the outbreak of war (September 1939), many city children returned home by Christmas. The children were well trained and got a lot more practice once the Blitz began (September 1940). The RAF success, however, forced the Luftwaffe to begin bombing primarily at night which meant that many schools were hit when the children were at home. We note an impressive demonstration at a Glasgow school. This was going on all over Britain in every school. It of course was only one part of the school air raid drills. Normally the air raid drills were conducted with the children carrying rather than wearing the masks. But because of classroom drills they were able to quickly put on the masks when instructed to do so. We even see British children at play outside of school wearing gas masks. That seems, however, more like staged publicity images.

Parents

Parents were supposed to train the children at home. Some did so, but thisvvaried from family to family. As a result many chilren were less than proficient. In part this reflected the fact that mom ir dad were atbhand to help. Butthis was not good enough when the children wer at school where one teacher might have 30 children to assist.

Classroom Training

The childten got much more practice at school and became very proficient at it. As a result, no one was better trained with using gas masks than the school children. We note drills with the schools training the children to efficiently put on gas masks correctly and quickly. This training and drill for the most partb took place in the classroom (figure 1). That way you had teachers involved who were skilled at working with each age group. We note an impressive demonstration at a Glasgow school. This was going on all over Britain in every school. The children were taught at hime as well, but at school they were drilled. Every British child became little experts at getting their masks on correctltly and fast. Gas mask training was of course was only one part of the school air raid drills. A British reader who was one of the students being trained tells us about his experience, "My recollection of the drill was that a rattle was used in the hallway to alert us to a gas attack. We were taught to stop breathing as soon as we heard that rattle. We were NOT Take a deep breath and not breathe again until our masks were in place. That of course meant that we had to be very good at getting our masks on. The masks were normally kept in the cloakroom, but it would be assumed that the Air Raid Alarm would have sounded long before any bombs were dropped so everyone would be in the shelter with their masks at the ready. The masks were placked in their boxes with the filter at the bottom and the rubber mask and the webbing at the top. One grabbed the webbing in both hands and smoothly slid it over the head. The rubber mask unfolded and slid up over the face. The tighness of the webbing was checked at every practice to ensure that each child's mask fitted properly and we got them on right. There was often much mirth during these sessions as with heavy breathing 'whoopy-cushion' noises sould be made. Breathing heavily made the rubber vibrate against the cheeks, emitting the rude noise." [Ardouin]

Air Raid Drills

The gas mask training dovetailed with air raid drills teaching the children how to behave in case of Luftwaffe raids using conventional bombs. The War begab just as the chikdren were beginning a new school year. As soon a sthb evacuations took place, the teachers began conductung air raid drills. Normally the air raid drills were conducted with the children carrying rather than wearing the masks. But because of classroom drills they were able to quickly put on the masks when instructed to do so. The schools sometimes had the children put on their masks before going to secure areas, just tom make sure they wre able to so so. Normally they would, however, carry their masks with them. Here the teacher had to amke sure the masks were placed so the children could quickly gran them as they moved to secure areas. There might alson be occassuinal drills in the secure aras putting on the masks, but for the most part this was done in the classroom.

Evacuations

Many but not all children were evacuated from the cities. Many city schools continued to operate and of course so did the schools in the countryside where the evacuees were billited. And when the expected bombing did not occur with the outbreak of war (September 1939), many city children pleaded with their parents to bring them home. Most were home for Christmas. The children were well trained and got a lot more practice and werevready when after the Fall of France, the battle of Britain began. Once the Blitz began (September 1940), many of the children had been reevacuated and knew just what to do when the sirens sounded. The RAF success, however, forced the Luftwaffe to begin bombing primarily at night which meant that many schools were hit, but fortunately the children were at home or in sheters.

Play

We even see British children at play outside of school wearing gas masks. That seems, however, more like staged publicity images.

Sources

Ardouin, Alan. E-mail message, January 13, 2014.







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Created: 6:10 AM 1/13/2014
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