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Children's gas masks
in World War Two Britain

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World War Two Mickey Mouse child's gas mask (respirator)

Mickey Mouse child's gas mask photographed in West Somerset Rural Life Museum. Note that the blue base is not merely a stand, but is the essential part of the gas mask.

World War Two Mickey Mouse child's gas mask (respirator) worn on a model

Model wearing a Mickey Mouse gas mask, showing the blue breath filter, photographed in the Imperial War Museum.

I was born five months before the Second World War started. So I was provided with a gas mask against a possible German gas attack on civilians.

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The appearance of a child's gas mask

Like all children's gas masks, mine was supposed to look like Mickey Mouse, to appeal to children - although when I look at these gas masks in museums, the resemblance to Mickey Mouse leaves much to the imagination. Cynthia Chadwick's comment reminiscent of monsters - see below - seems far more fitting.

Towards the end of the war once the threat of gas had receded, we played 'monsters' in the street with our gas masks. Then they were recalled and we had to hand them over - for the rubber or what, I do not know.

Cynthia Chadwick

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Breathing through the gas mask

Mickey Mouse's nose was supposed to flutter to show that the child was breathing.

Yet I have a clear memory of adamantly refusing to wear the thing, after trying it on. I instantly tore it off because it was stifling me. I couldn't get any breath through it! Whether this was a fault on my mask or a problem with the strength of my lungs, I shall never know. Certainly my mother did not persist and fortunately the Germans never used gas on us.

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Keeping the gas mask to hand

Gas masks were kept in brown rather square-looking canvas shoulder bags, which seem to have become a symbol of the World War Two home front.

Most of the photos of children during World War Two show them carrying their gas mask shoulder bags, although, unless it is pointed out, they may just look like ordinary shoulder bags. You may like to check out, for example, what the children are carrying in the photo of school children being evacuated.

Mothers and teachers were supposed to make sure that these bags, with the gas masks inside, were always within reach, at home, out of doors, at school and in bed at night.

Yet, as far as I can remember, my gas mask never went anywhere with me even though we lived in London in the midst of the blitz. Because I was so young, my memories are of the latter part of the war, and it is quite possible that my mother did keep me and my gas mask together earlier on. I don't know.

If you can add anything to this page, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

Even when I went out shopping with my mother, though, and in my first year of school - which was the last year of the war - I never saw anyone carrying their gas mask. Perhaps everyone had become over-confident as the Germans had not yet used any gas. However, I would have thought from what I read that my school would have been insistent about our having our gas masks always with us - but it wasn't.

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