Poison Gas Preparation: Evacuation of British Children (1939)



Figure 1.--These evacuee children are sleeping. I think they may be on a train. Note both their tags and gas mask boxes. The children all had them in 1939.

The Germans employed poison gas in World War I. The gas agents they used were developed by a super-patriotic Jewish scientist. The Allies used them in response. The British and other Europeans were terrified that the Germans would use gas against civilians in the next war. The British took the threat more seriously than any other country. The British Government isued 38 million gas masks to civilians who were required to carry them. One of the unanswered questions ofWorld War II is why the Germans did not use gas weapons. They had massive stockpiles. The Germans apparently concluded that they were a difficult to use munition. We can only speculate that in the early years of the War that there was no need to use them. In the later phase of the War when they no longer had air superority, it would not have been to their advantage. We do not know, however, at this time to what extent the use of gas was actively considered by Hitler or German military planners. Of course in 1939 no one knew this. The British children evacuated in 1939 all had little boxes in which they carried their gas masks. They had been trained in school how to use them.

Poison Gas in the Inter-war Era

Mustard gas was used by British forces which intervened in the Russian Civil War during 1919. We have no details at this time on the research and production prgrams for poison gas. The Germans were of course probited from manufacturing poison gas under the terms of the Versailles Treaty. After the NAZI rearmament program, poison gas was again produced. Subsequently international agreements prohibiting its use. I am not sure how this affected research and production programs. Even so poison gas was used in the inter-war period on a number of occassions. The Italians under Mussolini used it in their African campaigns in Libyia and Ethiopia. The Spanish also employed gas in their North African campaigns, both in Libya and Ethiopia. The Japanese used gas in China even before the beginning of World War II and were condemned by the United Nations. Despite the international conventions outlawing poison gas, there was widespread fear in Europe that it would be used. Advances in aviation brought the fear that gas would be used against civilian populations. One of the limitations of gas usage in World War I was the difficulty of delivering gas on enemy targets with the danger of your own forced being affected. Aerial delivery resolved this limitation.

British Evacuees

The British and other Europeans were terrified that the Germans would use gas against civilians in the next war. The British took the threat more seriously than any other country. Europe came close war at the time of the Munich crisis (1938). It was at this time that Britain began to serious plan to protect civilians from poison gas attacks. The British Government isued 38 million gas masks to civilians. The Government required civilians to carry them. This was done even before World War II actually brokeout. They had been trained in school how to use them. Some of the younger children were terrified of the masks, but practicing in school helped resolve most of this problem. The British children evacuated in 1939 all had little boxes in which they carried their gas masks. The photographs of the children lining up and boarding the trains all show the chhildren carrying these boxes. Even the smallest children had them. Special masks were created for infants.

Poison Gas World War II

One of the unanswered questions about World War II is why poison gas was not used. Gas had been widely used on the Western Front in World War I. It had first been developed by a German Jewish scientist working for the Whermacht. The Germans forst used it in 1915 at ??? with devestating effect. The British and French followed suit. I don't thaink the Americans and Russians used it, but I think the Austrians did. After the War, the major world powers outlawed the use of poison gas in war. This ban was included in several international agreements. Even so, the Italians under Musolini used it in their African campaigns in Libyia and Ethiopia. The Japanese used gas in China even before the beginning of World War II and were condemned by the United Nations. Military planners in Britain assumed that the NAZIs would use it when war broke out. Every British citzen, incliding children were issued gas masks. There wee even masks for babies. They were also issued in France, Italy, and Germany. Major combattant countries (America, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the Soviet Union) had large stocks of poison gas in their arsenals. The Japanesew were the only one of the cobattant coubtries to employ chemical weapons. The employed chemical and biological weapons in China. The question arrises as to why it was not more widely employed in the War, especially in the European air war.






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Created: 12:06 AM 10/2/2005
Last updated: 3:44 AM 1/13/2014